China suspends flights from Bali to China due to volcanic ash: report

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s aviation authority has suspended all flights from the Indonesian holiday island of Bali to Chinese cities until the threat of volcanic ash clears, the state-run People’s Daily newspaper reported on Monday.

Clouds of volcanic ash from Bali’s erupting Mount Agung volcano disrupted flights to and from the island’s airport last week, stranding many thousands of tourists.

Flights began resuming when the airport reopened on Wednesday, after the wind changed and blew the ash away from flight paths. Individual airlines make their own decisions on whether to operate.

Australia’s Jetstar resumed flights on Monday, while Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd said it planned to do so on Tuesday.

Despite the resumption of some services, China’s aviation authority was stopping any more flights after the return on Monday of the last charter flight, bringing to 15,237 the number of stranded Chinese tourists brought home, the People’s Daily newspaper said on its Twitter page.

“China’s aviation authority has suspended all flights from Bali to Chinese cities until volcanic ash threat clears,” it said.

China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines, which stopped flying new tourists into Bali last week, told Reuters that any resumption of flights would depend on the situation.

They declined to comment on the reported directive from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The CAAC did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

China Southern, which flies to Bali from the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, said in an email that “due to volcanic activity in the area, the local airport and associated routes are not airworthy so flights on these two routes have been cancelled in the near term”.

China has overtaken Australia this year as the biggest source of international visitors to Bali, representing about a quarter of the 4.9 million arrivals from January to September, according to industry statistics.

Airlines avoid flying through volcanic ash as it can damage aircraft engines, clogging fuel and cooling systems, hampering pilot visibility and even causing engine failure.

Purwo Nugroh, a spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency, said on Twitter that Mount Agung was no longer spewing ash but just white smoke that reached a height of 1,000 metres early on Monday.

(This version of the story corrects paragraph 13 spelling of Indonesian official’s name)

Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE and Jessica Damiana in JAKARTA; Editing by Robert Birsel