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NOUMEA,New Caledonia (Oceania Flash) Air France's Airbus A-340 aircraft has experienced the bitter taste of Papua New Guinea's volcanic ash: it had to be grounded for a day, so that technicians could inspect possible damage to its jet turbines, RFO's Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie reports on Sunday. The aircraft was last operating its usual Tokyo-Nouméa route, which flied over Papua New Guinea islands. But pilots said they had not been forewarned and did not immediately notice a volcanic smoke cloud above Papua New Guinea's New Britain islands, where volcanic activity has been intense for the past few months. "The pilot only noticed the cloud afterwards ", Air France's New Caledonia manager Jean-Michel Menassol said.

Once landed in Nouméa, the plane was grounded and thoroughly inspected on Sunday for possible damage to the jets' turbines. "Volcanic ash is like thousands of tiny pumice stones. So we have to make sure they have not caused any damage to the jets when we flew in the area. We also have to clean thoroughly. The pilot only noticed the cloud after it flew across it", Menassol said.

Scheduled flights at the weekend had to be cancelled but service (mostly to France) should be back to normal early this week. New Caledonia's international flag carrier, Air Calédonie International (AirCalin), which also flies on regional destination, has experienced last week technical problems on its Airbus A-310.

Oceania Flash/SPC

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