DENPASAR (Indonesia) • Bali airport reopened yesterday, an official said, after ash erupting from a nearby volcano forced the Indonesian authorities to close the terminal for two days, grounding hundreds of flights.
Favourable winds blew an ash cloud from Mount Rinjani, an active volcano on nearby Lombok island, away from Ngurah Rai International Airport, clearing the skies above Bali for the first time in days.
Indonesia's transport ministry allowed the Rai airport to resume operations yesterday afternoon, with the authorities waiting for aviation notices to be sent out, a spokesman for the airport's operator, Angkasa Pura I, said by phone.
"The airport reopened at 2.30pm Bali time," airport chief official Yulfriadi Gona said. "The wind is heading to the south and south-west, which means the volcanic ash is no longer heading to Bali."
The airport had been closed since late Tuesday and officials initially ordered it to remain shut until, at least, this morning. But, as conditions improved throughout yesterday, the national meteorological agency ruled it safe for flights to resume earlier than expected, Mr Gona said.
Nearly 700 flights, including 320 international ones, were cancelled between Tuesday and yesterday. The mass cancellations spelled travel chaos for thousands of stranded passengers in Bali, including Indian Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, who wrapped up a state visit on Wednesday.
The deportation of an Indian fugitive wanted in his home country for up to 20 murders was also delayed, after the crime boss was arrested in Bali more than a week ago.
The disruption also prompted the organisers of a United Nations conference in Bali to postpone the event, which was to be attended by Indonesian President Joko Widodo and philanthropist Melinda Gates.
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. The airport closure was another setback for Indonesia's efforts to attract 10 million visitors this year to help the economy.
"The impact will be significant to the central government's target," Mr Ngurah Wijaya, chairman of the Bali Tourism Board, said by phone. "When Mount Raung erupted, we lost 30 per cent from the Australian market." The last eruption by Mount Rinjani was in 2010.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG