Chile's volcanic ash halts more Queenstown flights

Qantas and Jetstar flights from Australia were still grounded yesterday as the rising Chilean volcanic ash cloud continued to disrupt the carriers' flight paths.

Jetstar spokesman Gerry Blank said it was the Qantas group's safety policy never to fly in the vicinity of an ash cloud.

Jetstar cancelled flights in and out of Queenstown, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, Sydney, Hobart, Launceston, Adelaide, Darwin and Perth.

Four Queenstown flights were affected: between Auckland and Queenstown and Christchurch and Queenstown.

Jetstar said it was "exploring every option" to help thousands of stranded passengers, including putting on extra flights when it could.

The airline said passengers could defer their travel, fly on a different route, or get a full refund or travel voucher.

Only one Qantas service to Queenstown has been cancelled since the cloud descended on Sunday, but Qantas cut services to and from Adelaide, Tasmania and New Zealand yesterday while flights to and from Melbourne were operating as scheduled.

Passengers with bookings on cancelled services would be contacted and rebooked on alternative flights, Qantas communications adviser Kira Reed said.

"We will not resume our services to ports affected by the ash cloud from Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano until we're completely confident that it is safe to do so," she said.

Air New Zealand's domestic and transtasman flights had continued on schedule to the resort yesterday with monitoring from the Civil Aviation Authority and Metservice's Wellington-based Volcanic Ash Advisory ensuring flight paths stayed clear.

In Australia. more than 60,000 passengers have been stranded by the ash cloud.

Yesterday afternoon, the vast bulk of the cloud was sitting between 8239m and 11,582m with a small lower pocket hovering to the south of the South Island, which CAA communications manager Bill Sommers said was unlikely to cause problems.

Air New Zealand has operated about 1000 flights and carried more than 50,000 passengers since the ash arrived in national airspace.

In order to avoid the ash the airline's domestic services had been operating up to a maximum 5500m, while transtasman flights departing Christchurch and Wellington were given new flight paths heading much further north than normal before crossing the Tasman.

"The 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," Air New Zealand airline operations and safety general manager and chief pilot, Captain David Morgan said.

"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," he said.

Air New Zealand would not fly through ash and would continue to take guidance from CAA and the Metservice "to ensure we can carry passengers where safe routes and altitudes are available", Mr Morgan said.

Almost all carriers including Air New Zealand, Virgin Blue, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Air Asia X, Air Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and others were operating international services to and from New Zealand yesterday.

- Additional reporting by NZPA

- matt.stewart@odt.co.nz