The latest Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) forecast maps are showing a worrying new plume of ash from the Chilean volcano heading towards Australia.
A large plume to the south-west of Australia is moving towards the coast of Western Australia at altitudes from surface level to 20,000 feet -- so planes won't be able to fly underneath it to skirt the cloud.
If the ash cloud remains on course it may cause more flight cancellations over the weekend and early next week, especially in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Tasmania.
Despite ash in the atmosphere between 20,000 and 40,000 feet over New Zealand this week, Air New Zealand has been able to keep its planes in the air by flying at lower than 20,000 feet (at the cost of higher fuel burn; presumably a cheaper cost than cancelling flights entirely and refunding passengers). The coming ash cloud would make this strategy impossible.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce yesterday revealed his airline had flown scientists from the UK and was launching specially designed aircraft into the ash cloud to analyse density of the ash.
The biggest challenge for Australian airlines is that the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre is not able to provide information on ash density in the Australian region. The European VAAC can provide this information to airlines.
Joyce said Qantas aircraft would be able to safely fly through low density ash, but without any information on ash density, Qantas simply could not take any risk with passenger safety.
For the latest news on the volcanic ash cloud's impact on Australian travel, check our main story, updated 24 hours a day as forecasts become available.