Ash cloud returns: Virgin, Tiger suspend flights

Volcanic ash cloud that caused six days of air travel havoc is about to return.
Volcanic ash cloud that caused six days of air travel havoc is about to return. Photo: Reuters

Virgin Australia and Tiger Airways have begun cancelling flights as the ash cloud from a volcano in Chile returns to Australian airspace.

Virgin suspended all Adelaide and Mildura flights for tomorrow, while Tiger Airways announced it was cancelling eight flights, four between Sydney and Melbourne and four between Melbourne and Adelaide.

"The current forecast suggests the ash plume will below 20,000 feet over Adelaide and Mildura tomorrow. With this in mind we are suspending these services tomorrow," said the head of the Virgin Australia's operations, Sean Donohue.

The path of the volcanic ash cloud over Australia.
The path of the volcanic ash cloud over Australia. Photo: Bureau of Meteorology

A Qantas spokeswoman said that while the airline will have a better indication of the as cloud's impact tonight and early morning tomorrow, at this stage some early flights from Adelaide might be delayed.

"We're thinking it's going to be pretty minimal at this stage. Tomorrow, we don't have any services cancelled. If anything, it may impact Adelaide slightly, but we're not anticipating any major disruption," the spokeswoman said.

"There could be a delay to a couple of services in the morning, but other than that, it looks like it could be operations as normal."

A Jetstar spokeswoman said that while it received the same risk assessment from as Qantas, it flies to different destinations, and would be updating its outlook for tomorrow after 5:30pm.

Airlines are expected to release their latest schedule changes this evening, if any, depending on what the meteorologists advise.

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Darwin is issuing warnings that the cloud is 2000 kilometres south-west of Western Australia but moving rapidly.

It is predicted run into a strong low-pressure system in the Great Australian Bight, which will pull it northwards.

The ash cloud is expected to cross the South Australian border tomorrow morning, but by the afternoon it is expected to spread into southern New South Wales, raising the spectre of disrupting flights between Melbourne and Sydney.

That's bad news for one of the busiest air routes in the world.

"Our forecast is that it will cross the South Australian coast tomorrow morning and the southern New South Wales coast tomorrow evening," the centre's director, Dr Andrew Tupper, said.

"This is the main cloud coming around again. This time it looks like it will come over Australia itself.

"It's between six and 10 kilometres high, with the highest concentrations at 10 kilometres — which are cruising altitudes."

The cloud was moving at between 80 and 100 knots, Dr Tupper said.

"The first bit of the cloud should go north of Melbourne, but we’re not sure how wide it’s going to be," he said.

"It’s coming in from the west and forming as it goes."

While the ash cloud may not reach as far north as Sydney, if it enters the air corridor between Melbourne and Sydney it could be problematic, he said.

"It’s extremely busy (for air travel), obviously that’s a concern for us."

But because the ash plume was moving fast, "it will be done and dusted really soon", Dr Tupper said.

"It’s more like a short, sharp disruption," he said, "with the peak disruption in the order of one day."

The volcano was still erupting, but spewing ash to a lower altitude, with most of it dissipating over the Atlantic Ocean, he said.

"This is the main eruption cloud coming around for a second bite at the cherry."

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