Ash grounds more flights in Australia, NZealand
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Ash grounds more flights in Australia, NZealand

SYDNEY (AP) — Most airlines grounded more flights to and from southern Australia and New Zealand on Monday morning after an ash cloud from a Chilean volcano expanded overnight, but Virgin announced it would slowly resume service.

Several flights to and from Melbourne, Tasmania and New Zealand were canceled Sunday after ash, which can damage engines, moved across the Pacific. Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded.

Despite the cloud’s expansion overnight, Virgin Australia started flying out of Melbourne, Tasmania and New Zealand again Monday morning with a reduced schedule. More than two dozen Virgin flights were still suspended, and about 4,000 to 6,000 passengers stranded, said company spokeswoman Melissa Thomson.

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Qantas jets sit on the tarmac at the international airport in Sydney after flights were grounded Sunday. Pic: AP.

Australia’s national carrier, Qantas, meanwhile, canceled more flights in and out of Melbourne, saying it would reassess at midday. All flights to and from Tasmania and New Zealand were grounded Monday.

That left more than 10,000 Qantas customers stuck, a spokesman said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

Other carriers, including budget airlines Jetstar and Tiger, also continued to suspend flights.

The plume of ash could disrupt travel for the next several days and could reach the Australian capital, Canberra, on Monday afternoon, according to Airservices Australia. The drifting clouds of fine grit can severely damage airplane engines.

“We do expect there will be ongoing disruptions to the air traffic network over the next 24 hours,” said spokesman Matt Wardell.

National carrier Air New Zealand has not canceled or delayed any flights yet, instead choosing to adjust routes and altitudes to ensure aircraft remain clear of any ash, spokeswoman Tracy Mills said. But the company was continually assessing the situation and could be forced to suspend service later Monday, Mills said.

The Cordon Caulle volcano in southern Chile began erupting June 4. Flights in the South American countries of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil were grounded for some days following the eruption.

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