Planes finally leave for Sydney

Passengers on Air New Zealand flights to Sydney delayed today by dust storms over New South Wales have finally taken to the air.

The first plane, which left Auckland at 4pm, was upgraded from a 767 aircraft to a 747 to take the extra passengers stranded at Auckland International Airport.

Another jet was due to leave Auckland at 5.30pm, while Christchurch passengers were to get airborne when their flight left at 4.40pm.

About 500 passengers were affected by the delays, which started when three flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch had to return after setting off between 7am and 8am today, Air NZ spokesman Mark Street told NZPA.

The Christchurch and Auckland flights returned home, while the Wellington flight diverted to Auckland.

The Auckland-Sydney flight at 11am was also cancelled .

Stranded passengers played the waiting game all afternoon until air traffic control in Sydney gave the flights the green light.

"The operations team had to wait for guidance from air traffic control in Sydney about when conditions were expected to improve," Mr Street said.

"Around 500 passengers have been waiting in the airport for the go-ahead," Mr Street said.

Large areas of New South Wales experienced severe winds, unseasonably warm temperatures and a red dust storm early today.

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