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November 07, 2010. Jakarta (KATAKAMI / THE JAKARTA GLOBE) — Thousands of international air travelers are in limbo after airlines on Saturday canceled scores of weekend flights into and out of Jakarta over fears that ash clouds from Mount Merapi posed a danger, but then began reinstating or rescheduling many of the flights on Sunday.
The notoriously volatile Mount Merapi unleashed nearly 50 million cubic meters of gas, rocks and ash on Friday, its most powerful eruption in a century. Up to 138 people have now died on Merapi’s slopes in the past ten days of eruptions and gas cloud ash emissions, and authorities were still struggling on Sunday to deal with those injured in the latest blast.
Airlines canceled 50 Sunday flights in addition to 36 on Saturday over concerns about volcanic ash being spewed into the sky 430 kilometers to the east.
The airlines halting flights to the capital include Singapore Airlines, Air Asia, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa and Japan Airlines.
However, some carriers resumed some flights on Sunday. Singapore Airlines reinstated two morning flights, and has added a supplementary flight from Singapore to Jakarta and back tonight. Malaysia Airlines said three flights from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta and three from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur would be operated as normal, but two flights in each direction remain canceled.
Soekarno-Hatta Airport operator Angkasa Pura II issued an official list of flights affected as of 12.15pm on Sunday:
Emirates Airlines: 4 flights; EK-356/357 (15.45/17.45) EK-358/359 (21.45/00.15)
Philippine Airlines: 2 flights; PR-503/504 (12.30/13.20)
ValuAir: 2 flights; VF-507/508 (11.35/12.15)
Cathay Pacific: 2 flights; X-777/776 (13.05/14.50)
JetStar: 2 flights; JQ-115 (20.05/20.35)
Japan Airlines: 2 flights; JL-725/726 (17.20/22.05)
Flights previously canceled but reinstated:
Singapore Airlines: 2 flights; SQ-952/953 (14.45/15.40)
Singapore Airlines: 2 supplementary flights added; SQ-954/955 (20.45/21.40)
KLM: 2 flights; KL-809/810 (18.10/19.25)
Lufthansa: 2 flights; LH-778/779 (18.50/20.05)
Brunei Airlines: 2 flights; BI-737/738 (13.25/14.50)
Domestic flights to/from Yogyakarta cancelled:
Garuda Indonesia: 15 flights (8 departure / 7 arrival)
Lion Airlines: 4 flights (3 departure / 1 arrival)
Batavia: 2 flights (1 departure / 1 arrival)
Airlines are advising passengers to check their online schedules and announcements as the situation is changing hourly due to weather conditions.
Australian airline Qantas said it had made a careful assessment of weather conditions and will go ahead with today’s flight from Sydney to Jakarta.
A spokesman for Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport, which handles around 900 flights per day, confirmed that the airport remained fully open, and flag-carrier Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air are still running all international flights out of there.
“There has been no notice to airman so far from the aviation authorities which says the airport is affected by the volcanic ash. Therefore Garuda continues its activities,” Garuda Indonesia spokesman Pujobroto told news portal kompas.com.
Domestic flights from Jakarta are mostly unaffected so far, but flights to cities closer to Merapi on the main island of Java – including Yogyakarta, Solo and Bandung – have been affected, with the closure of smaller airports near the volcano delaying the arrival of burn cream and ventilators for those whose skin and lungs have been singed by searing gases.
US President Barack Obama is scheduled to touch down in Jakarta on Tuesday as part of a 10-day Asian tour. Since taking office, Obama has already twice postponed visits to Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where he spent four years as a child.
Paul Belmont, a US Embassy spokesman, said there has been no talk yet of canceling. “But certainly, if the situation evolves into something like what we saw in Europe not long ago (when the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul forced closed airports for a week) it’s something we’d have to take seriously,” Belmont said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Three Malaysian air force planes arrived in Indonesia to pick up hundreds of citizens stranded by the eruption of Mount Merapi. The Royal Malaysian Air Force says the C-130 transport planes left early on Sunday.
They will pick up 664 Malaysians, many of them university students who had been in the city of Yogyakarta, 30 kilometers south of the volcano. The city is on its highest alert for the danger of ash and lava flows from Merapi.
JG, AP, AFP