Forest Fire Haze Disrupts Air Traffic in Sumatra

JAKARTA ~ Thick haze from forest fires in Sumatra blanketed the sky and disrupted air traffic in Riau province on Tuesday, an airport official said.

“Four planes to (provincial capital) Pekanbaru airport have been diverted this morning to nearby airports on Sumatra due to the thick haze,” airport manager Dedi Suryana said.

He said the haze – a recurring problem that also affects neighboring countries – had hampered visibility since early on Tuesday.

“We closed the airport at 8am as we only had visibility of about 500 meters,” he said, adding that at least 1,000 meters of visibility was needed to safely run flights in and out of the airport.

An official at the Forestry Ministry who is monitoring the forest fires via satellite, Dedi Haryanto, said 102 hotspots were detected on Monday compared with only 16 the day before.

He said most of the hotspots recorded were from slash-and-burn land clearing by local residents and the rest were from similar clearing for commercial plantations.

Heavy deforestation, including through forest burning, has helped make the country one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.

Riau province in the centre of Sumatra has massive but dwindling areas of peatland forest, which are deep swamps of semi-decomposed vegetation that are major stores of carbon and release massive amounts of greenhouse gases when burned or cleared.

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