Virgin Australia hedges against Bali volcano eruption

Virgin Australia is re-routing some Bali-bound flights through Darwin to pick up fuel as it prepares for a possible volcanic eruption with the potential to affect thousands of holidaymakers.

The airline has issued a travel alert for Bali but at this stage continues to operate normally and has not released a blanket fare waiver for people wanting to cancel their travel plans.

It said it was closely monitoring the situation at Mt Agung, a volcano in east Bali just over 70kms from the tourism centre of Kuta, which is now on the highest alert for a possible eruption.

“ At present, flights are planned to operate as scheduled, however there may be some delays,’’ it said.

“As a precautionary measure, some of our Bali bound flights will be making fuel stops in Darwin.

“This ensures that if an eruption occurs while the aircraft is en-route, we will be able to get guests back to their originating port safely and quickly.”

Virgin urged passengers travelling to Bali to make sure the airline had a contact number and to buy travel insurance.

A Jetstar spokesman said its flights were also operating to schedule.  Jetstar operates 60 flights a week to the holiday mecca from Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville, Darwin and Perth.

“Most customer inquiries to date have been to ask if flights are on schedule,” the spokesman said. “A handful have requested changing their travel dates, which we’ve accommodated with no change fee.”

Hundreds of tremors have been recorded in the region as seismic activity around the mountain has increased.

The warning of a potential eruption was raised to the highest level of four on Friday night and thousands of locals have fled villages in an exclusion zone around the mountain.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a warning on Friday that travellers could see their plans affected by Mount Agung.

“An eruption of Mount Agung could impact air travel in the region,’’ it said. “Contact your airline or tour operator to confirm travel plans.’’

Bali’s international airport at Denpasar is on alert and is preparing its emergency operations centre should an eruption suspend air travel.

However, authorities still cannot say when or — or if — the volcano will erupt or what its impact might be.

There looked to be some hope the mountain was settling on Saturday when the frequency of tremors fell in the morning,  but it increased again later that day.

Mt Agung’s last major eruption was in 1963 and killed more than 1100 people.

The head of the Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG), Kasbani, told news.com.au that the 1963 eruption lasted for a year and saw hot ash clouds gush out with extraordinary speed.

Volcanic ash is dangerous to aircraft because it can cause extensive damage to engines and even cause them to shut down.

Examples of disruptions in recent years include the spectacular eruption of the Mt Kelud volcano in east Java in 2014, which caused flight cancellations and significant delays for flights between Australia and South-East Asia.

In June 2011, air travel in Australia and New Zealand was thrown into chaos by ash from the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano in Chile which swept over southern Australia and New Zealand.

The ash cloud went around the world twice and disrupted travel plans for hundreds of thousands of travellers.

In May 2010, thousands of flights were grounded in Europe after Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted.

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