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Air New Zealand cancels flights due to volcanic ash

Published: 5:28AM Wednesday June 15, 2011 Source: ONE News/Newstalk ZB

Air New Zealand has announced cancellations to flights tonight as a result of increased volcanic ash activity south of the South Island.

The flights affected are all flying into or out of Dunedin.

The carrier says it will continue to monitor the situation and an update is expected on Thursday morning.

The ash cloud has been hovering over the country since Sunday and is showing little sign of shifting.

Air New Zealand had managed to continue flying by altering its flight paths and altitudes, in spite of cancellations by Qantas and Jetstar.

Frustration mounts

Frustrated Qantas passengers have taken to Twitter to vent their anger at continuing cancellations.

Flights to and from New Zealand on the Australian carrier have been cancelled today, and tomorrow's schedule is subject to review as disruption from Chile's spreading volcanic ash cloud continues.

The airline's official Twitter feed has been inundated with requests for information and complaints about the disruption, forcing it to offer individual apologies to disgruntled customers.

"Completely understand your frustration and we really are very sorry. However unfortunately the ash cloud is out of our control" it replied to one angry tweeter.

Many have also complained about the difficulty in getting through to the airline's call centre, which it says is down to high call volumes.

An error on the airline's website also caused confusion for travellers until the page was taken down.

Qantas' budget arm Jetstar is also grounded. Jetstar CEO Dave Hall told ONE News he has apologised to 20,000 passengers stranded in New Zealand and disputes claims the move to cancel flights was to save costs.

Hall says the decision is based only on safety.

The airline says as part of the Qantas Group airline, they have in place the same monitoring and assessment processes and Jetstar continues to review the status of its operations to affected ports.

Most other airlines have found ways to fly around or under the ash cloud.

Air New Zealand General Manager Airline Operations and Safety and Chief Pilot, Captain David Morgan says "authorities are providing excellent information about the ash which is at high altitude and very predictable in its movement.

"By adjusting cruising altitudes of our aircraft we are able to continue to safely deliver customers to their destinations," he said in a statement prior to tonight's cancelations.

"Lower cruising altitudes mean we need to burn around 10% more fuel than normal, but we don't believe that's a reason to stop flying when there are perfectly safe flight paths available below the level of the ash."

Emirates, Virgin Blue, Singapore Airlines, Air Asia X, Air Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific and Korean Air were all offering international services yesterday.

New South Wales university senior adjunct lecturer and aircraft maintenance expert Peter Marosszeky said volcanic ash had "disastrous consequences" on aircraft that flew into such clouds.

Dry ash acted as a sandpaper-like abrasive on all exterior parts of an aircraft.

"In addition, it will choke up the sensitive ports within the engines and block them, as well as melting in the turbine area and forming an undesirable coating not dissimilar to glass."

The ash would form a glass-like coating and destroy some aerodynamic characteristics, he said.

NZ Volcanoes capable of disruptions

Meanwhile GNS vulcanologist Graham Leonard said New Zealand's volcanoes Ruapehu, Tongariro and Taranaki were all capable of producing eruptions with as much force as Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano.

New Zealand volcanoes erupted more frequently because of the type they were, he said. "All likelihoods are that we will all see multiple eruptions in our lifetimes."

Leonard said ash from Chile presented no health risks to New Zealanders. The only risks were to aviation.

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