Dozens of flights were cancelled due to huge volcanic ash clouds after an underwater volcano, Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai, erupted in Tonga over the weekend.
Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Quantas were forced to cancel several flights to islands in the southwestern Pacific, while Fiji Airways and Fiji Link have grounded the majority of flights for several days.
The underwater volcano was located approximately 70 km (54 mi) from Tongatapu, an island that houses the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga. It began to erupt in December 2021.
On January 14, 2022, a large eruption resulted in flight cancellations, as a plume of smoke and volcanic ash covered the surrounding area. However, another far larger eruption took place on January 15, resulting in an enormous ash cloud that stretched several hundreds of kilometers.
Fua’amotu International Airport (TBU), located on Tongatapu Island, operates just one weekly connection to Auckland, and has not yet been required to cancel any flights. Meanwhile, all flights to Nadi International Airport (NAN), the main international airport of Fiji, which is located on Viti Levu and is approximately 900 km (560 mi) from Tonga, have been cancelled.
Fiji Airways, the Republic of Fiji’s flag carrier, had to suspend or cancel all flights as the volcanic ash covered the island. According to the company’s website, flights to and from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Melbourne and Sydney were cancelled on January 16 and 17. Local flights between Labasa, Suva, Nadi and Suvusavu were also canceled.
As of January 17, the volcanic ash cloud was drifting to Australia. According to New Zeeland Meteorological Service, the cloud was between 12-20 kilometers in height.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) issued an advisory in connection to the cloud, indicating the aviation color code as orange, meaning that ash emissions are minor.
Saturday’s violent eruption in Tonga sent a huge cloud of ash high into the atmosphere. The volcano is currently not producing significant ash but we can see a veil of ash from this weekend, drifting westward across to northern Australia at a height of between 12 – 20km. pic.twitter.com/hGzyO8pj3o
— MetService (@MetService) January 17, 2022