Airlines are being forced to cancel flights from Australia to Fiji due to huge volcanic ash clouds after an underwater volcano erupted in Tonga over the weekend.
Fiji Airways appears the most affected, with three flights out of Sydney already cancelled, and a fourth delayed by over three hours so far. Earlier, on Sunday, four Fiji Airways flights out of Melbourne were cancelled.
It comes after Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano erupted on 15 January, prompting tsunami warnings and evacuation orders of much of the Pacific Islands.
In a statement, Fiji Airways stated that it was required to cancel flights “due to hazardous operating conditions as a result of the ash cloud from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption”.
“The decision follows extensive operational assessments (on 16 January) after receiving updates from authorities in the region on the movement of the volcanic ash cloud,” the airline said.
“Fiji Airways and Fiji Link thank passengers for their understanding and reiterate that the safety of our guests and crew is of paramount importance.”
The airline is currently working to rebook affected customers onto flights for Monday night.
Virgin Australia, Jetstar, and Qantas have all also been forced to cancel flights to Fiji due to unsafe operating conditions caused by the ash cloud.
The cloud is currently forecast to track west and fan out over parts of Queensland, the Northern Territory and parts of Western Australia, however no domestic services have been impacted at the time of writing.
Meanwhile, an Aircalin flight from Tokyo to Nouméa was diverted to Brisbane overnight in light of the ash cloud, with all passengers sent into hotel quarantine in the Queensland capital while arrangements are made for another flight.
It comes after the Australian Defence Force on Monday sent a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon Aircraft to Tonga to aid in the Australian response effort.
The Poseidon has been sent to conduct an assessment of damage to critical infrastructure, such as roads, ports and power lines, throughout the Polynesian country to help determine the next step in the response effort.
The ADF said the move forms part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s coordinated mission to support the government of Tonga, following the eruption.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the Royal Australian Air Force was currently “undertaking surveillance activity over the affected area”.
It appears the Poseidon could have been joined by a C-17 Globemaster, after both were spotted taking off from RAAF Base Amberley, headed for Tonga, earlier this morning.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand Defence Force have also confirmed that an Orion aircraft left Auckland on Monday morning to assist with an initial impact assessment of the area and low-lying islands.