Bali airport reopens as volcanic ash shifts direction

Bali airport reopens as volcanic ash shifts direction

Bali's international airport reopened on Wednesday (Nov 29) after a shutdown of nearly three days, as ash from Mount Agung shifted away from the resort island. 

DENPASAR, Indonesia: Bali's international airport reopened on Wednesday (Nov 29) after a shutdown of nearly three days, as ash from Mount Agung shifted away from the resort island. 

"Bali's international airport started operating normally," air traffic control provider AirNav said in a statement, adding that operations resumed at 2.28pm (0628 GMT).

A spokesperson for Bali's international airport said authorities will continue to monitor the situation on the ground, amid the possibility of a larger eruption. 

The reopening followed a downgrade in the authorities' aviation warning to "orange", one level below the most serious.

This opened up a window of hope for some of the more than 120,000 tourists stranded, after a spike in volcanic activity grounded hundreds of flights at Indonesia's second busiest airport since Monday.

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.

But airport officials cautioned that the only direct international gateway to the tropical island could be shuttered again, if winds change direction and towering columns of smoke and ash pose a risk to flights.

Ash is dangerous for planes as particles can be sucked into engines. It also makes runways slippery.


Several carriers, including Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Qantas, are planning additional flights to clear the backlog of passengers stranded in Bali. 

In a Facebook update on Wednesday, Singapore Airlines confirmed the departure and re-timing of several flights. The airline added that it is working with SilkAir to provide additional flights out of Denpasar for passengers who were affected by cancellations Nov 27 and 28.

Low-cost carrier Scoot said in a Facebook update at 4.30pm that it would resume its flights to and from Denpasar on Thursday.

It added that it would stop ferrying passengers from Bali to Surabaya via coach until further notice, but that those already in Surabaya could take Scoot flights back to Singapore.

In a media statement, Jetstar said it is planning to operate "relief flights" out of Bali to get people back to Singapore and Australia.

Jetstar Asia will operate its scheduled Bali service on Thursday and Friday as well as an additional relief flight from Bali to Singapore on both days.

Jetstar Airways and Qantas have 10 scheduled flights and will put on an additional six relief flights on Thursday for customers flying to Australia, the statement added.

Foreigners whose visitor visas are expiring will be given a special permit to stay longer due to the eruption, said the immigration agency.


Tens of thousands of residents have already fled their homes in the area near Mount Agung - which last erupted in 1963, killing around 1,600 people.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho of the disaster mitigation agency said about 43,000 people had heeded advice to take shelter, but an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 people were living in the zone.

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

"Small eruptions have been happening continuously but there's still the possibility of a bigger, explosive eruption," said I Gede Suantika, a senior volcanologist at Indonesia's volcanology agency.

"Activity remains high and we are still on the highest alert level."

Roadside signs that read "Volcanic danger zone. No entry!" underscored the potential risks of staying behind.

There is a 10km exclusion zone around Agung, which is 75km away from the beachside tourist hub of Kuta.

Agung rumbled back to life in September, forcing the evacuation of 140,000 people living nearby. Its activity decreased in late October and many returned to their homes.

However, on Saturday the mountain sent smoke up into the air for the second time in a week in what volcanologists call a phreatic eruption - caused by the heating and expansion of groundwater.

Indonesia, the world's most active volcanic region, lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activities.

Last year, seven people were killed after Mount Sinabung on the western island of Sumatra erupted. A 2014 eruption at Sinabung killed 16.

Source: Agencies/zl