After an underwater volcano, Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai, erupted in Tonga over the weekend, dozens of flights were canceled owing to massive volcanic ash clouds.
Several flights to islands in the southwest Pacific have been canceled by Virgin Australia, Jetstar, and Qantas, while Fiji Airways and Fiji Link have grounded the majority of aircraft for several days.
The undersea volcano was located about 70 kilometers (54 miles) from Tongatapu, the Kingdom of Tonga’s capital island. In December 2021, it began to erupt.
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
A massive eruption on January 14, 2022, caused aircraft disruptions as a plume of smoke and volcanic ash blanketed the area. However, on January 15, a much larger eruption occurred, resulting in a massive ash cloud that stretched hundreds of kilometers.
On Tongatapu Island, Fua’amotu International Airport (TBU) has only one weekly link to Auckland and has not had to cancel any flights yet. Meanwhile, all flights to Nadi International Airport (NAN), Fiji’s largest international airport, have been canceled.
NAN is located on the island of Viti Levu and is approximately 900 kilometers (560 miles) from Tonga.
As a result of the volcanic ash blanketing the island, Fiji Airways, the Republic of Fiji’s flag carrier, had to postpone or cancel all flights. Flights to and from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Melbourne, and Sydney were canceled on January 16 and 17, according to the company’s website.
Local flights were also canceled between Labasa, Suva, Nadi, and Suvusavu.
The volcanic ash cloud was travelling towards Australia as of January 17. The cloud was between 12 and 20 kilometers high, according to the New Zealand Meteorological Service.
The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued an advisory in conjunction with the cloud, saying that the aviation color code is orange, suggesting that ash emissions are minimal.