DENPASAR: Ash spewing from a volcano closed the airport on the Indonesian resort island of Bali Wednesday for the third time this month, forcing the cancellation of flights and stranding tourists during peak holiday season.
Mount Raung on Indonesia’s main island of Java, which has been rumbling for weeks, sent an ash cloud floating over Bali that closed the island’s Ngurah Rai airport, the transport ministry said.
Two small airports on Java serving domestic routes were also shut down, it added.
“Due to volcanic ash from Mount Raung, the Ngurah Rai airport is temporarily closed again from midday (0500 GMT),” ministry spokesman J. A. Barata told AFP. “We don’t know when it will reopen, we will monitor the situation.”
Volcanic ash from Raung had already closed Bali’s international airport two times this month, between July 9 and 12, forcing almost 900 flights to be cancelled or delayed and creating a backlog that took days to clear.
The shutdown on Bali, a top holiday destination that attracts millions of visitors from around the world to its palm-fringed beaches every year, has come during one of the busiest times of the year for the tourist industry.
The latest shutdown will also cause major disruption for domestic tourists, as millions are making their way back home after going away for last week’s Muslim holiday of Eid.
Australian airlines Virgin Australia and Jetstar said they were cancelling flights on Wednesday to and from Bali, a favourite holiday destination for Australians. It was not immediately clear how many flights would be cancelled by the new airport closure.
Indonesian government vulcanologist Gede Suantika said Raung was shooting out ash 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) into the air on Wednesday, and the wind was blowing it southeast towards Bali.
Air traffic is regularly disrupted by volcanic eruptions in Indonesia, which sits on a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean and is home to the highest number of active volcanoes in the world at around 130.
The main concern for airlines regarding volcanic ash is not that it can affect visibility but rather that it could damage aircraft, as ash turns into molten glass when it is sucked into jet engines, according to experts.