Indonesia reopens Bali airport as wind clears volcanic ash

Indonesia reopens Bali airport as wind clears volcanic ash

The airport on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali reopened on Wednesday as wind blew away ash and smoke spewed out by a volcano, giving airlines a window to get stranded tourists out and authorities more time to urge villagers to move to safety.

Operations at the airport   -   the second-busiest in Indonesia -   have been disrupted since the weekend when Mount Agung, in east Bali, began belching out huge clouds of smoke and ash, and authorities warned of an "imminent threat" of a major eruption.

"Bali's international airport started operating normally," air traffic control provider AirNav said in a statement, adding that operations resumed at 2.28 p.m. (11.58 am IST).

The reopening of the airport, which is about 60 km away from Mount Agung, followed a downgrade in an aviation warning to one level below the most serious, with the arrival of more favourable winds.

A large plume of white and grey ash and smoke hovered over Agung on Wednesday, after night-time rain partially obscured a fiery glow at its peak.

President Joko Widodo begged villagers living in a danger zone around the volcano to move to emergency centres.

The decision to resume flights followed an emergency meeting at the airport, when authorities weighing up weather conditions, tests and data from AirNav and other groups.

Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 later showed there were flights departing and arriving at the airport although its general manager said if the wind changed its direction the airport could be closed again at short notice.

 Singapore Airlines Ltd said it would resume flights while Australia's Qantas Airways Ltd said it and budget arm Jetstar would run 16 flights to Australia on Thursday to ferry home 3,800 stranded customers.

Singapore Airlines and SilkAir were seeking approval to operate additional flights on Thursday, while budget offshoot Scoot said it would cease offering land and ferry transport to the city of Surabaya, on Java island, as it resumed flights to Bali.

Virgin Australia plans to operate up to four recovery flights to Denpasar on Thursday.

"As the volcanic activity remains unpredictable, these flights may be cancelled at short notice," it said on its website.

The head of the weather agency at Bali airport, Bambang Hargiyono, said winds had begun to blow from the north to south, carrying ash toward the neighbouring island of Lombok.

He said the wind was expected to shift toward the southeast "for the next three days", which should allow flights to operate.

 

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