Ash cancels flights to another Australian city

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 60,000 passengers have been stranded by the disruptions, which came amid a three-day holiday weekend in Australia. It was unclear how many people were still stranded in Melbourne as flights resumed there.

Meanwhile, about two dozen flights into and out of the southern city of Adelaide were canceled Tuesday, though Qantas and Jetstar said they would reassess that decision later in the day.
The airlines kept flights to the island state of Tasmania and New Zealand grounded, as they have since Sunday.

Ash has moved across the Pacific from Chile, where it has been spewing from the Cordon Caulle volcano since June 4. Particles in the ash can damage jet engines.

Despite the danger, the Australian air force flew stranded Tasmanian lawmakers to the national capital Canberra in a jet late Monday to attend Tuesday's parliamentary session, the government said in a statement. The government holds a single-seat majority in the House of Representatives, so any absences could bring it down.

There were no problems reported with the flight.

Flights in the South American countries of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil were grounded for some days following the eruption.

New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority said Tuesday that 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, Melbourne. Adelaide is about halfway across Australia's southern coast.

"We were worried about it potentially pushing up to Canberra and Sydney, but that's less of a concern for us now," Andrew Tupper, head of the center, told the Australia Broadcasting Corp.
National carrier Air New Zealand never suspended service, instead choosing to divert flights and alter altitudes. Virgin Australia is using similar methods, but Qantas rejected flying below the cloud.

"This is about Qantas safety standards and procedures in place. We want to assure the safety of crew, the safety of our passengers and ultimately the safety of our airlines," said Olivia Wirth, a Qantas spokeswoman.

Virgin Australia, which initially canceled similar routes but resumed all flights Monday, expects to have worked through its backlog by the end of Tuesday, according to spokesman Colin Lippiatt.

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

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