SYDNEY — Australian flights grounded by the Chilean ash cloud gradually started to resume Wednesday, but thousands of passengers face more delays as airlines scramble to clear a massive backlog.
Hundreds of services were cancelled Tuesday in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra but the threat of prolonged disruption has eased as the plume from the Puyehue volcano eruption pushes out towards the Tasman sea.
National carrier Qantas restored flights to and from the South Australian capital Adelaide before dawn, and they will be followed by Melbourne at 11:00am (0100 GMT).
Canberra and Sydney routes will begin operating again at 2:00pm, including international flights, although the airline said delays were expected on overseas services into both Sydney and Melbourne.
Spokeswoman Olivia Wirth said the airline expected thousands of its customers to be affected once again.
"There were a significant number of people delayed over the past 24 hours. There were around 20,000 yesterday and we expect that number to go to around 50,000 today," she told ABC television.
As the ash cloud moves away from mainland Australia, Qantas services to Tasmania have been cancelled for the day, while most flights to New Zealand are halted until further notice
All services by Qantas' budget offshoot Jetstar remain grounded until 11:00am, when it will reassess the situation.
Virgin has resumed flights from Adelaide, with other capital cities to follow from midday.
Ash poses a significant threat to aircraft because once sucked into engines it can be transformed into molten glass by the high temperatures and potentially cause an engine to fail.
The cloud first entered Australian and New Zealand airspace just over a week ago, causing some airlines to ground all flights to affected areas while others chose to divert their planes under and around the plume.
The Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre's director Andrew Tupper said the plume was a rare occurrence and a third loop back to Australia was not likely.
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