Haze From Forest Fires Closes Two Riau Airports

Haze From Forest Fires Closes Two Riau Airports

22 June 2009

published by thejakartaglobe.com

Indonesia —

Services at two airports in Riau were disrupted on Monday after thick haze from forest fires reduced visibility to levels considered too dangerous for flying, a report said.

At least three aircraft were unable to land at Pinang Kampai Airport in Dumai, a port city in Riau, after haze forced the closure of the runway for four hours, said Van Baisten Sitanggang, an officer on duty at the airport.

“Two of the aircraft belonged to Pelita Air, while the other was operated by Riau Airlines,” he said, adding that visibility at the airport was less than 1,000 meters, far below the 5,000 meters required for safe landing.

Sitanggang said that the three planes were diverted to nearby Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru, which had also been closed for almost two hours earlier on Monday.

Taslim, an air traffic supervisor at Sultan Syarif Kasim II, said that haze forced the closure of the airport for 90 minutes, beginning at six in the morning

“Visibility dropped to 500 meters,” Taslim said, adding that the airport was reopened after visibility had improved to five kilometers. Three flights were effected because of the closure of the Pekanbaru airport.

Taslim said that Lion Air and Mandala Airline flights to Jakarta were each delayed by 45 minutes, while an Air Asia plane coming from Jakarta landed two hours behind schedule.

The haze, mostly caused by fires from land clearing, has become an annual fixture at the end of the rainy season, when farmers and plantation companies clear land for new crops.

The practice is outlawed but enforcement has been lax, with authorities citing funding and manpower shortages.

According to the Meteorological and Geophysics Agency in Pekanbaru, as of Sunday there were 111 hot spots in Riau, accounting for the bulk of the 193 fires across Sumatra.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said on Monday that Malaysia had offered to help fight the country’s forest fires, although an official notification of the offer had yet to be received.

The annual haze often blankets the sky in neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand, causing serious traffic and health hazards.

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