19 Jun 2011

Chilean ash cloud completes round-the-world tour

7:30 am on 19 June 2011

Civil aviation officials in Chile say the volcanic ash cloud that disrupted flights in New Zealand and Australia has returned home after a round-the-world tour.

Chile's LAN airline says it has cancelled some flights to the deep south of the country because of the cloud, and flights to and from Australia, New Zealand and parts of neighbouring Argentina remained suspended.

The thick ash billowing out of the remote volcano high in Chile's Andes poses a danger to aircraft.

Chilean geologists have predicted the volcano will become less active in the next two weeks, and say the column of smoke has died down to three kilometres from a maximum height of 12 kilometres.

The volcano, part of the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain, has been erupting for the past two weeks.

The national geological service says that in the coming days either lava will flow from it - indicating the eruption is nearing its end - or a build-up of magma below the surface will cause a new explosion.

No weekend problems expected

In New Zealand, the Civil Aviation Authority's meteorology manager, Peter Lechner, says he doesn't expect the country to experience any problems this weekend from the ash cloud.

Mr Lechner says clouds to the south of Australia are being monitored closely as they move very slowly eastwards. He says they're relatively stationary, and some even appear to be dispersing, but it will be clearer on Sunday whether any are likely to reach New Zealand.

"With each reporting period we know a little bit more about how far they've travelled and in which direction," he says, adding that they might affect the South Island or the south of the South Island at most.

Most airlines flying out of New Zealand returned to normal schedules on Friday evening but have a passenger backlog from this week's disruptions.