Airlines across the Asia-Pacific region scrambled to reschedule or cancel flights yesterday after a vast cloud of volcanic ash closed swathes of European airspace.
From Wellington to Tokyo, passengers heading to Europe faced an uncertain wait as the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano forced the biggest airspace shutdown since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Airlines warned the fallout from the eruption could take days to clear, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.
Taiwan’s China Airlines Ltd (CAL, 中華航空) canceled the Bangkok-Amsterdam leg of its CI165 and CI166 flights between Taipei and Amsterdam, while EVA Airways Corp (長榮航空) dropped its Taipei-Paris round-trip flights and was scheduled to announce later in the day whether it would also cancel its Taipei-Vienna flights.
Australia’s Qantas Airways said it may not be able to resume flights to London and Frankfurt until tomorrow.
Qantas spokesman David Epstein urged passengers not to head to airports in the hope that flights may resume soon.
“Do not be optimistic about flights tomorrow [Saturday],” he said, adding that it “may take until Sunday unless we hear something better from European authorities.”
Five 24-hour flights leaving Australia for Europe on Thursday were grounded after they stopped for refueling in Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok, with passengers booked into hotels.
Air New Zealand canceled flights to and from London, and the company’s international group general manager Ed Sims said travelers faced “a very uncertain situation.”
Japan Airlines canceled nine flights to and from Paris, Amsterdam, London, Milan and Frankfurt, affecting more than 2,000 customers.
All Nippon Airways said it canceled six flights, affecting more than 1,500 people.
Although not visible from the ground, volcanic ash can be highly dangerous to aircraft, clogging up the engines and reducing visibility, experts say.
An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 flights were canceled on Thursday alone as gray ash blew across the north Atlantic.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific said it had delayed or canceled a dozen flights to London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. About half the Cathay flights were delayed to today, while the remainder were canceled.
British Airways canceled two flights scheduled to depart Hong Kong last night bound for London’s Heathrow airport.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines canceled one flight last night to Amsterdam from Hong Kong, while German carrier Lufthansa pulled a Frankfurt-bound flight scheduled to leave yesterday afternoon.
Indian airlines Air India, Kingfisher Airlines and Jet Airways have all canceled flights to London because of the drifting ash.
Singapore Airlines said it had canceled seven flights to and from Europe, while Malaysia Airlines said its flights to London, Amsterdam and Paris had been disrupted by the eruption.
A scheduled flight to London from Kuala Lumpur was diverted to Frankfurt on Thursday, while two other flights to London and Amsterdam, and one to Paris were delayed until further notice.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CNA