Bloomberg News

Argentina Airports Shut, Qantas Cuts Flights on Volcano Ash

June 14, 2011

(Adds soccer tournament delay from first paragraph.)

June 14 (Bloomberg) -- A cloud of volcanic ash disrupted flights across the Southern Hemisphere and threatened to postpone the start of the Copa America soccer tournament next month as teams face delays in arriving to Argentina.

Flights in and out of Buenos Aires’s Ezeiza and Aeroparque international airports were canceled after authorities reversed plans to reopen them yesterday, affecting travel to cities including Paris, Houston, Sao Paulo, Atlanta and Miami. Qantas Airways Ltd. said it will pare Australia flights for a fourth day as the volcanic ash cloud spreads away from Chile.

“Conditions aren’t yet improving,” said Melina Calvo, an Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 SA spokeswoman. “It seems that the problem could expand to other neighboring countries.”

Air traffic in Argentina may take a week to return to normal, Calvo said, as carriers including Lan Airlines SA and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines ground planes because of concerns that volcanic ash may clog jet engines. Services were disrupted following a June 4 eruption at the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex in southern Chile.

Peru President-elect Ollanta Humala, on a regional tour following his June 5 victory, took a boat from Uruguay to Buenos Aires last night ahead of a meeting today with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. At Uruguay’s main airport in Montevideo, more than 400 flights have been delayed since the ash cloud arrived last week, affecting 15,000 passengers, newspaper El Pais said.

Scrapped Flights

Qantas scrapped all flights to New Zealand and the Australian island of Tasmania tomorrow morning, extending a shutdown. Chile, whose airports are operating normally, has cancelled 30 flights to and from Argentina, Australia and Uruguay, the country’s aeronautical authority said in an e- mailed statement.

Julio Grondona, head of Argentina’s Soccer Association, said that disruptions may postpone the July 1 start of the Copa America competition.

“We are aware of everything and there’s no way all the countries are ready to arrive to Buenos Aires,” Grondona said in an interview today with Radio Diez.

Chile’s government is maintaining a state of alert in four communities near the volcanic complex in the country’s south, the state emergency service, known as Onemi, said in a statement on its website last night. Tremors at the Cordon Caulle volcanic complex have declined since yesterday, Chile’s geological and mining authority, Sernageomin, said in a statement on its website.

Cloud Dispersal

The length of the ash cloud has diminished, extending about 300 kilometers (186 miles) east before dispersing 1,000 kilometers east-northeast, Onemi said, citing satellite images from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Qantas’s approach contrasted with Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand Ltd., which both operated full services today. Air N.Z. operated flights at lower altitudes to avoid the ash cloud, boosting fuel usage by about 10 percent, according to a statement on its website.

Virgin Australia, a unit of Virgin Blue Holdings Ltd., is adjusting flight times and paths based on data from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology and the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre.

“This means we are flying under or around and we are certainly not flying through ash,” Colin Lippiatt, a Virgin Australia spokesman, said by telephone today.

Tiger Airways Holding Ltd. expects to operate all Australian flights tomorrow apart from one round-trip service to Tasmania, it said in a statement on its website.

Qantas will halt all New Zealand flights through 2 p.m. local time tomorrow and Tasmania services until 11 a.m., it said.

Airlines are able to decide for themselves whether to operate flights, provided they avoid the ash clouds, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority said in a statement on its website.

--With assistance from Robert Fenner in Melbourne and Manuel Baigorri in Madrid. Editors: Bill Faries, James Attwood

To contact the reporters on this story: Eliana Raszewski in Buenos Aires at eraszewski@bloomberg.net; Randall Woods in Santiago at rwoods13@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net


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