Things With Wings

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  • Confronting the ash quandry
    Posted by Adrian Schofield 1:57 AM on Jun 14, 2011

    Qantas is looking increasingly isolated in its cautious approach to ash-related cancelations, and rival Air New Zealand is making sure everyone knows it.

    Qantas Group carriers – including Jetstar – have extended the suspension of Tasmania and New Zealand flights through June 14 due to the presence of a volcanic ash cloud over the south coast of Australia and New Zealand. Cancelations were lifted from Melbourne flights on June 13, and Adelaide flights are expected to resume today.

    Virgin Australia also canceled flights to Melbourne, New Zealand and Tasmania, but resumed flying these routes on June 13. Air New Zealand has not canceled any flights, and is instead rerouting some flights around or beneath the ash plume.

    Qantas is sheltering behind the mantra of putting “safety before schedule,” but this is no doubt wearing a little thin with stranded passengers when they can see that other carriers are flying the same routes.

    An Air New Zealand statement noted that “the travelling public will be pleased to know that almost all carriers including Air New Zealand, Virgin Blue, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Air Asia X, Air Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and others are today operating international services to and from New Zealand.”

    No doubt that is a shot at Qantas. Air NZ has also repeatedly made the point that rerouting flights is increasing fuel costs, a statement that intentionally or not makes Qantas look bad.

    “Lower cruising altitudes mean we need to burn around 10% more fuel than normal, but we don’t believe that’s a reason to stop flying when there are perfectly safe flight paths available below the level of the ash,” Air NZ says.

    It’s interesting that airlines in New Zealand and Australia are determining for themselves when it is appropriate to cancel or resume flights. This is in contrast to the European ash crisis last year, when carriers criticized aviation authorities for imposing blanket bans and not letting them make the decision themselves.

    Maybe now we are seeing a disadvantage to the self-determination approach, with customers confused by what appears to be different ash policies. And has this also raised the question of whether airline ash decisions can be influenced by the actions of competitors?

    Tags: tw99, Qantas, ash, Air New Zealand

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