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Volcanic ash disrupts more flights

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

But Qantas announced it would resume some service to the island nation on Friday, the first time in nearly a week its planes would cross the Tasman Sea. Jetstar and Virgin have yet to decide on their schedules for Friday.

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 cancelling flights.

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.

On Thursday, nearly 70 flights to, from and within New Zealand were cancelled, adding thousands of passengers to those already affected. But Australia's domestic service was back to normal on Thursday and extra flights were going into and out of Perth to clear a backlo.

Many passengers on national carrier Qantas and its budget subsidiary Jetstar have grown frustrated with cancellations to New Zealand, especially since Virgin and Air New Zealand kept most of their planes in the air as they said they could fly around the ash cloud.

But on Thursday, Virgin said it could no longer maintain service to New Zealand because the ash was too low. A graphic from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre showed the cloud hovering as low as 13,000ft between the two countries.

The thick column of ash has also been drifting east towards Argentina and Uruguay, though airports in their capitals were able to reopen on Wednesday.

Football officials are worried that the ash could delay the July 1 start of the Copa America, South America's championship. "We hope that within five or six days the problems with the ash will not exist," Argentine Football Association President Julio Grondona told Argentine broadcaster Radio 10.

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