Ash plume halts flights to another Australia city

SARAH DiLORENZO - Associated Press
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New Zealand's Mount Taranaki has a warm glow lighting the snow peak as an ash cloud from a Chilean volcano drifts across the Pacific, Sunday, June 12, 2011. Most airlines grounded more flights to and from southern Australia and New Zealand on Monday morning after an ash cloud from the Cordon Caulle volcano in southern Chile expanded overnight. (AP Photo/David Frampton) NEW ZEALAND OUT, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

SYDNEY (AP) — More Australian flights were canceled Tuesday because of ash from a Chilean volcano, this time out of a midsize southern airport, as airlines scrambled to fly out thousands of passengers who had been stranded for two days in Melbourne.

National carrier Qantas and budget airline Jetstar said they planned to add capacity to and from Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, and hoped to get all passengers in the air by the end of the day.

More than 70,000 passengers had been stranded in Australia but it was unclear how many still were as flights resumed in Melbourne.

About two dozen flights into and out of the southern city of Adelaide were canceled Tuesday. The grounded flights included service by budget carrier Tiger Airways, which also canceled a flight between Melbourne and the western city of Perth because the route would require planes to cross through the ash cloud.

Qantas, Jetstar and Tiger said late Tuesday that all their mainland Australian routes would be open Wednesday morning, including to and from Adelaide. But flights to the island state of Tasmania and New Zealand would remain grounded Wednesday morning, as they have since Sunday.

Ash has moved across the Pacific from Chile where a volcano has been erupting since June 4. Particles in the ash can damage jet engines, and flights in Chile and other South American countries have been grounded at times as well.

New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority said the ash will be back in Chile soon, after having circled the globe. Even if the eruption stops now, however, the agency said Australia and New Zealand can expect at least another week of ash clouds in their airspace.

Australia's Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre said flights could be affected for several days, mostly in southeastern Australia, which includes Tasmania and Melbourne. Adelaide is about halfway across Australia's southern coast.

Travellers trying to reach Tasmania were scrambling for any available flights and ferries. The Spirit of Tasmania ferry service opened more seats but still was sold out until Saturday on trips from Victoria to Tasmania.

National carrier Air New Zealand never suspended service, instead choosing to divert flights and alter altitudes. Virgin Australia is using similar methods, but Qantas has repeatedly rejected flying below the cloud.

The flight warnings and disruptions come 14 months after air traffic was grounded across Europe after the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano.


Associated Press writers Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand, and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.