Ash clouds from the Cotopaxi volcano are adding as much as 15 minutes to half an hour to flights between Quito and Cuenca and Guayaquil.
Ecuador’s Civil Aviation Directorate has rerouted flights that originally flew to the west of Cotopaxi, to the east of the volcano, to avoid plumes of ash and gas that can stall aircraft engines. The new flight time between Quito and Guayaquil is one hour and five minutes instead 35 minutes, as the route has been diverted over the jungle cities of Macas and Pastaza before heading west over Cuenca. Quito to Cuenca flights take the same route, adding about 15 minutes to the flight time.
The ash clouds from Cotopaxi have blown consistently from east to west since the eruptive stage began in April.
Quito airport officials report that most flights are arriving and departing on time based on the new schedule but say there have been several airport closures following blasts of ash that have reached more than a kilometer above the Cotopaxi crater.
Due to increased flight time, airlines say they may need to increase ticket prices. Julio Gamero, vice president of Ecuador Avianca, says that in addition to higher fuel costs, the airlines are also forced to add additional staff due to the uncertainty of the situation. “If winds that blow the ash to the west change direction, we have to be prepared to deal with cancellations and scheduling changes,” he said.
Civil Aviation officials say that in the case of a major eruption, all airports in the country would probably be closed for several days. In the case of an exceptionally large eruption, areas near the Quito airport at Tababela could be subject to volcanic pyroclastic and lahar outflows.