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Sydney's dust cloud could carry across the Tasman, a meteorologist has said, as airlines in New Zealand dealt with damage caused to flight schedules.

Barry Hanstrum, the regional director of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, said the effect of the dust storm could be felt over here. Strong winds from South Australia sent dust across the Tasman in September, he said. "And likewise with this one, there's a fair chance that it will keep going out into the Tasman Sea and it won't dissipate quickly."

Meanwhile, airlines last night scrambled to rebook hundreds of passengers who had their transtasman travel plans thrown into chaos by the dust cloud that enveloped eastern parts of Australia.

More than a dozen flights were cancelled or turned around and rerouted due to concerns about the effect of dust on engines.

Air New Zealand was forced to cancel four Sydney-bound flights, two from Auckland, one from Wellington and one from Christchurch.

The airline was able to clear some of the backlog by using a Boeing 747 jumbo jet on a late afternoon flight instead of a smaller 767.

A spokesman said engineers were concerned any dust lodged in engines could cause problems when it became moist on the return flight across the Tasman.

"We erred on the side of caution."

He said he was confident the backlog would be cleared by late last night.

Qantas said four flights were cancelled and another from Sydney to Auckland was delayed for more than eight hours.

A spokeswoman for the airline said it was hoped to rebook all those from cancelled flights on to later flights and make their destinations last night.

"There was no way of forecasting this. We are used to putting in place these types of contingency plans but this one was very rare," she said.

The airline's cancellations were because of "minor technical difficulties", aggravated by the snowballing effect on hundreds of domestic flights being disrupted.

"In normal circumstances, we would replace these with other aircraft and depart with minimal delay. However, due to the impact of the dust, we had aircraft diverted to other ports, and limited aircraft availability around the network."

Qantas subsidiary Jetstar said one Auckland-Sydney was delayed but made it later in the day. An Auckland-Sydney Pacific Blue flight was diverted to Brisbane.