Air Travel Disruptions from Chilean Volcano Spread to South Pacific

 - June 13, 2011, 8:20 AM
The impact on air transport of the recent eruption of the Puyehue-Cordon-Caulle volcano range was relatively limited early last week, but by the weekend its effects spread across the southern hemisphere to Australia and New Zealand.

Disruption to air traffic in South America caused by the eruption of the Puyehue-Cordon-Caulle range of volcanoes in Chile spread to Australia and New Zealand over the weekend, after shifting winds had initially allowed flight activity to return to normal throughout most of South America within four days of the June 4 eruptions in an area 500 miles south of the capital Santiago.

Airlines started flying a backlog of more than 60,000 passengers into and out of international gateways in Australia and New Zealand today as the ash cloud that had drifted eastward across the Southern Hemisphere began to clear. However, most flights between Australia and New Zealand remained grounded today, while schedules in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil continued to feel the effects of the volcano after airlines there thought they had escaped long-term disruptions by the middle of last week.

By the evening of June 7 the rapid spread of volcanic ash had caused disruptions to flights between Chile and Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. In Argentina, only around 60 flights had to be cancelled at Buenos Aires’s Ezeiza and Aeroparque airports, which lie about 800 miles northeast of the Puyehue-Cordon-Caulle range. After resuming normal operations on June 8, however, the Buenos Aires airports had to close again on June 9, forcing more delays and cancellations throughout that region.

Still much more disruptive by comparison, the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano in April and May of 2010 resulted in the cancellation of around 100,000 flights, affecting 10 million passengers and causing a loss in airline revenues of as much as $1.8 billion. Last month’s eruption of the Grímsvötn volcano in Iceland saw limited impact over a 48-hour period, with 900 flight cancellations. In South America, as of press time, airlines in the region had yet to conduct an assessment of total flights cancelled and loss of revenues. Meanwhile, it remains unclear what safety policy Chile and Argentina followed in deciding which airspace to close and on what basis.

Major carriers affected by the Puyehue-Cordon-Caulle volcano include Chile’s Lan Airlines, TAM of Brazil, Jetstar, Air New Zealand, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Emirates Airline.

Chile is a veritable hotspot of volcanic activity, with some 80 volcanoes known to be active among the more than 3,000 across its long, thin landmass.