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Tongan volcano disrupts South Pacific services

The large volcano that has emerged out of the Pacific Ocean near Tonga's capital is causing flights disruptions as airlines struggle to see past of the ash.

The large volcano that has emerged out of the Pacific Ocean near Tonga’s capital is causing flights disruptions as airlines struggle to see past of the ash.

Named Hunga Ha’apai, the volcano first erupted out of the ocean in 2009 forming a new island 63 kilometres north of Nuku’alofa.

Activity recommenced late last year after ash and steam was spotted in the sky by a fisherman.

Air New Zealand and Fiji Airways’ services have since adjusted and cancelled flights over concerns for growing volcanic ash.

Air New Zealand advised it has cancelled some of its services between New Zealand and Tonga.

Flight NZ970 operating between Auckland and Nuku‛alofa yesterday was diverted to Samoa and later returned to Auckland. 

As a result the return leg – flight NZ973 – from Nuku‛alofa to Auckland was also cancelled.

An additional return service was due to operate today to re-accommodate these passengers but this too has since been cancelled.

Today’s scheduled return service NZ970 Auckland – Tonga and NZ973 Tonga – Auckland has also been cancelled.  

Additional flights for later this week have been scheduled to accommodate affected passengers.

The airline said it is also looking to offer travel flexibility for travellers ticketed up to and including 12 January for travel to or from Tonga between now and 18 January 2015.

“[We] will continue to monitor the situation closely. The volcanic conditions in Tonga are not currently affecting Air New Zealand services to other destinations.”

Air New Zealand

Fiji Airways has also cancelled all Tonga flights after a flight from Nadi to Tonga turned back near Nuku’alofa yesterday.

In a statement to KarryOn, Fiji Airways chief executive Stefan Pichler said flight FJ271 bound for Tonga returned to Nausori International Airport due to visibility issues.

“All passengers are being accommodated and looked after until approval has been given to resume flights.  Our team will run a risk assessment of the situation to determine whether flights will go ahead tomorrow. As for now, all international flights bound for Tonga have been cancelled.”

Stefan Pichler, Fiji Airways managing director and chief executive 

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