Stranded Australian tourists hoping to come home from Bali as services resume


Thousands of Australians who've been stranded in Bali due to a volcanic ash cloud should finally fly home on Thursday after airlines announced a resumption of services.

Qantas and Jetstar are hoping to take advantage of a temporary clearing in the cloud from the Mount Agung eruption, giving a tentative green light for ten scheduled services and six relief flights.

The plan will mean 3800 passengers can come home after Denpasar Airport reopened on Wednesday, but the airlines warned senior pilots would need to assess the situation on Thursday morning to make sure they could still go ahead.

Virgin Australia said it also hoped to fly customers home, subject to a review of conditions in the morning.

Indonesian authorities ordered 100,000 residents who live near the volcano to evacuate after it became active last week.

The subsequent ash cloud has since wreaked havoc with the travel plans of thousands of tourists.

"The international airport started operating normally," air traffic control provider AirNav said in a statement.

Wednesday's reopening followed a downgrade in the authorities' aviation warning to "orange", one level below the most serious.

The decision to resume operations followed an emergency meeting at the airport, weighed up weather conditions, tests and data from AirNav and other groups, AirNav added.

Jetstar will be running four extra flights carrying about 1,000 stranded passengers from Bali on Thursday.

An airline spokesman told SBS News these flights would be on top of nine other scheduled flights out of the island destination with Qantas operating a scheduled flight and an extra one.

A total of 3,800 people booked with Jetstar and Qantas will be able to return to Australia. 

However, flights for tourists travelling to Bali will remain cancelled. 

"We will not be taking customers into Bali tomorrow given the likelihood of further volcanic activity and the potential that conditions change and lead to diversions or further cancellations," a Jetstar statement said.

Jetstar also warned flights may be cancelled at short notice because "volcanic activity and ash cloud are unpredictable".

"Our senior pilots will make further assessment tonight and tomorrow morning based on the latest information from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre. We will provide customers further updates if the situation changes," the statement read.

Virgin Australia plans to operate up to four recovery flights to Denpasar on Thursday.

Singapore Airlines said it would resume flights between Singapore and Bali on Wednesday.

The looming eruption has left about 120,000 tourists stranded in Bali with the volcano spewing ash 7,600 metres high.

The airport will reopen at 3pm local time (1900 AEDT), officials say.

Authorities have previously told 100,000 people to leave an area extending 10km from Mount Agung as it belches grey and white ash plumes, the low clouds hanging over the volcano at times hued red from the lava welling in the crater.

President Joko Widodo implored residents living in a zone around Agung deemed at risk to seek refuge in emergency centres, as winds sending an ash cloud southwest across the island once again halted flights.

A spokesman for Bali's I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport said as many as 430 domestic and international flights had been disrupted on Wednesday by the closure of the airport, about 60km away from Mount Agung.

The grounding of flights coincided with schoolies week in Australia, when an estimated 6000 teens were expected to flock to the island resort.

Mt Agung towers over eastern Bali to a height of just over 3,000m. Its last major eruption in 1963 killed more than 1,000 people and razed several villages.

Layers of ash coated cars, roofs and roads in an area southeast of the crater. Children wore masks to walk to school.

Authorities want residents in a radius of about 8km to 10km around the volcano to head for emergency centres, warning a larger eruption could be "imminent". But some are reluctant to leave homes and livestock unattended.

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