Thick haze disrupts flights in Indonesia; unhealthy air in parts of Malaysia

Kampar in Riau province on Indonesia's Sumatra island shrouded by haze from forest and land fires on Sept 4, 2015.
Kampar in Riau province on Indonesia's Sumatra island shrouded by haze from forest and land fires on Sept 4, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA/KUALA LUMPUR - Thick haze in Indonesia caused by forest and land fires has disrupted flights in Jambi and Surabaya, while some areas in Malaysia recorded unhealthy air quality on Tuesday afternoon (Sept 8).

Antara news agency reported that all commercial flights at Sultan Thaha Airport in Jambi province were cancelled on Tuesday.

At Juanda International Airport in Surabaya, East Java, flights have been disrupted since Saturday (Sept 5) due to forest fires in Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan, Liza Anindya, a spokesman for state-owned airport operator PT Angkasa Pura I, told tempo news portal. The flights included those to Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, Balikpapan in East Kalimantan and Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara.

On Monday, at least three Citilink and Lion Air flights departing Surabaya for Palangkaraya were delayed for more than seven hours.

The annual problem is due to open burning in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces, which is the fastest way to clear plantation and forest lands.

On Monday, water bombing operations had to be cancelled due to poor visibility.

"We had to cancel water bombing operations by two of our helicopters due to limited visibility, which was down to 600m horizontally and 90m vertically yesterday. Today, there will be no commercial flight operations at the Sultan Thaha Airport, which means the cancellation of 18 flight arrivals and 18 departures," Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), was quoted by Antara news agency as saying.

He added that BNPB planned to use a helipad owned by PT Wirakarya Sakti, a pulpwood supplier for Asia Pulp and Paper, which has better visibility than the one at Sultan Thaha Airport.

On land, the BNPB heads firefighting operations in the regencies of Muaro Jambi, West Tanjung Jabung and East Tanjung Jabung.

"One of the challenges for land operations is the difficulty of finding sources of water. In the Jebus area, for example, we had to use an excavator to construct water trenches. Our equipment is also limited," said Mr Sutopo.

He said that the Jambi Health Agency had distributed 22,400 face masks in affected regencies and cities and that the Plantation Agency had urged plantation companies to support and collaborate with the taskforce team to extinguish the fires.

Meantime, eight areas in Peninsula Malaysia recorded unhealthy air pollutant index (API) readings on Tuesday afternoon.

At 7pm, Nilai recorded the highest API reading at 132, followed by Bukit Rambai (125), Port Dickson and Malacca (105), Batu Muda (105),  Banting and Samarahan (105), and Seremban (102).

Areas with high moderate readings were Port Klang and Muar (93), Putrajaya (85), and Sri Aman (92).

API readings of between 0 and 50 indicate good air quality; 51 and 100, moderate; 101 and 200, unhealthy; 201 and 300, very unhealthy; and over 301, hazardous.