Thousands of Flights Cancelled After Volcano Erupts
Written by Faith Anderson on June 21, 2011
Although the ash cloud drifted higher last week and allowed some airline activity to resume, the cloud has returned to Australian airspace, causing Virgin Airlines and Tiger Airways to cancel flights. Virgin has suspended all Adelaide and Mildura flights for the time being, and Tiger Airways has announced that it will cancel eight flights, four between Sydney and Melbourne and four between Melbourne and Adelaide. The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Darwin has issued warnings that the ash cloud is 2,000 kilometers south-west of Western Australia and is moving rapidly. The path of the ash cloud is expected to cross the South Australian border and then spread into southern New South Wales, where it will disrupt some of the busiest air routes in the world. In the meantime, the Chilean volcano is still erupting, but spewing ash to a lower altitude with most of it dissipating over the Atlantic Ocean.
Volcano Erupts in Chile, Causing Ash Cloud to Form
A volcano in Chile’s Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain erupted earlier this month, leading to the formation of a large ash cloud which continues to cause chaos for travelers today. The volcano is located about 500 miles south of Chile’s capital, Santiago, and continues to spout large amounts of ash and smoke. Airlines have announced that they will not fly through ash and are constantly receiving guidance from the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that they can continue to transport passengers only where safe altitudes and routes are available. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first ash cloud that has disrupted air travel. Just last month, Iceland’s most active volcano at Grimsvotn erupted, sending a dense plume of ash and smoke 15.5 miles into the sky. Last April, the eruption of another Icelandic volcano, called Eyjafjallajokull, led to 100,000 canceled flights and affected 10 million people at a cost of $1.7 billion.
Dangers of Ash Clouds for Airlines
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than eighty commercial aircraft have had unexpected encounters with volcanic ash in-flight or at airports in the last fifteen years. Apparently, coming into contact with ash can cause jet engines to fail or not perform properly. In 1982, a British Airways 747 jumbo jet encountered ash from an Indonesian volcano when it suffered severe damage and had all four engines fail. Fortunately, the plane was able to restart some engines before making an emergency landing in Jakarta.
Potential Long-Term Effects of the Chilean Volcano Eruption
Chilean geologist predict that the volcano will become less active in the next two weeks and report that the column of smoke has diminished to three kilometers from a maximum height of twelve kilometers. According to the National Geological Service, in the near future we will see either lava flowing from the volcano indicating that the eruption is near its end, or a build-up of magma below the surface which may cause a new explosion. In the meantime, some 4,000 people have been evacuated from the region. The ash cloud continues to travel around the world, as thousands of travelers are being stranded and hopes of resuming air travel in several countries have been dashed. Unfortunately, the long-term effects of the ash cloud on southern Chile and Argentina may also be significant; a large amount of ash has fallen on Patagonia, causing Argentine authorities to declare an agricultural emergency. Local farmers are facing a catastrophic situation as the ash cloud compounds the effects of the recent long-running drought. Strong winds have blown ash over the southern Atlantic and southern Indian Ocean to Australia and New Zealand, and more ash has been carried by the wind north-east to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Until the ash cloud dissipates and airlines feel that their normal routes and altitudes are safe enough to resume air travel, travelers around the world face frustration, altered plans and canceled flights.