Volcano ash forces more flights to NZ canceled

AP News
Posted: Jun 16, 2011 7:52 AM
Volcano ash forces more flights to NZ canceled

Virgin Australia joined other airlines in grounding flights between Australia and New Zealand on Thursday as ash from a Chilean volcano settled to a lower altitude between the two countries.

But Qantas and its budget subsidiary Jetstar announced that they would resume service to the island nation on Friday _ the first time in nearly a week their planes would cross the Tasman Sea. Virgin has yet to announce its Friday schedules.

The eruption of the Cordon Caulle volcano has wreaked havoc on flights in the southern Pacific, stranding tens of thousands of passengers since the weekend, when Qantas and Jetstar first began canceling flights. Ash can damage jet engines, causing them to fail.

New Zealand has been largely cut off since Sunday, and service to the Australian cities of Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart in Tasmania has periodically been suspended. South American flights also have been affected.

Air New Zealand has continued to fly between New Zealand and Australia, though it briefly suspended some domestic flights because of ash Thursday.

On Thursday, nearly 70 flights to, from and within New Zealand were canceled by various airlines, adding thousands of passengers to those already affected. It was unclear how many people were still waiting to fly Thursday.

Australia's domestic service was back to normal Thursday. Extra flights were going into and out of Perth, the gateway to the remote west, to clear a backlog after Wednesday's cancellations.

Like Air New Zealand, Virgin had flown to and from New Zealand when Qantas and Jetstar would not, confounding stranded passengers. But on Thursday, Virgin said it could no longer maintain New Zealand service because the ash was just too low _ as low as 13,000 feet (4,000 meters), according to a graphic from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre.

Virgin has also canceled some flights to island countries in the South Pacific.

Qantas and Jetstar, meanwhile, said they would resume most flights to Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown on Friday. Christchurch services will remain suspended because of ash over New Zealand's South Island.