CLOSE to 3000 volcanic ash refugees have been returned to Australia from Bali after Jetstar and Virgin Australia finally got airborne out of Denpasar airport.
Both airlines had operated just a handful of flights since last Tuesday as a result of relentless eruptions from Mount Rinjani and unfavourable winds. An estimated 10,000 Australians remain stranded and awaiting details of flights home. Jetstar managed ten flights out of Ngurah Rai Airport today (THURS) and Virgin Australia three, with more expected overnight.
A further six recovery flights are planned by Jetstar on Friday, and Virgin Australia is also hoping to operate all scheduled services to try to clear some of the backlog.
Mt Rinjani is continuing to erupt however, so flights will depend on the winds, and the airlines’ own risk assessments.
Neither Jetstar nor Virgin Australia are flying Australia to Bali services at the moment.
“Our priority is to bring guests home from Bali, rather than attempting to fly more guests in and having to turn around the flights due to a deterioration in flying conditions or potentially delaying those guests in returning home due to ongoing eruptions,” said a Virgin Australia spokeswoman.
Due to the unpredictable nature of the volcanic eruptions, the airlines have been unable to say if weekend services will operate. Both have beefed up social media teams in an effort to respond to queries on Facebook and Twitter, as well as increasing call centre staff. Virgin Australia is offering passengers who have booked flights to Bali, the option of changing their tickets to one of 12 other destinations at no extra cost.
Latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicated the volcanic ash disruptions that have played havoc with airline schedules since late June may have contributed to a reduction in Aussie visitors to Indonesia.
Return home ... Bali travellers will soon start seeing more of these aircraft.
In the three months since July, just under 300,000 Australians have travelled to Indonesia, compared with 310,000 for the same period last year. Mt Raung west of Bali has not erupted since mid-August.
Indonesia has the highest number of active volcanoes of any country, with more than 170.
Mt Rinjani last erupted in 2010.