Auckland jet fuel shortage could affect thousands of people per day

by RNZ / 18 September, 2017

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Air New Zealand passengers getting information after flights were cancelled. Photo / Jessie Chiang

Thousands of people are expected to have their travel plans disrupted over the coming days with a jet fuel shortage at Auckland Airport likely to cause more flight cancellations.

Oil companies are rationing fuel after the pipeline from Marsden Point had to be shut down to repair a leak, which was spotted on Thursday afternoon.

Refining NZ estimates it will take 10 to 15 days to fix the crack in a jet fuel pipeline.

It has reduced the volume of jet fuel available to 30 percent of normal usage.

Auckland Airport said passengers should contact their airlines.

Air New Zealand alone has estimated about 2000 customers a day will be affected as it deals with the fuel shortage.

So far, the airline cancelled 27 flights over the weekend and a further 17 domestic and international flights in the next two days.

Fuapepe Frost was supposed to fly home to Samoa on Sunday but when she turned up to the airport, she was told by Virgin Australia her flight was cancelled.

She said it had been frustrating and there hadn't been enough notice.

"I would have thought they would put us in a hotel just to wait it out because we have to come from Palmerston North this morning just to catch the flight for home."

Digger damage

It's thought the damage was caused by a digger operating on a farm. The pipeline from the Marsden Point refinery was shut off within 15 minutes, but by then about 70,000 litres of jet fuel had leaked into farmland near Ruakaka.

The pipeline from the Marsden Point Oil Refinery is currently the only supplier of jet fuel to Auckland Airport.

Refining NZ chief executive Sjoerd Post said it could be two weeks before their pipeline was repaired.

"Currently we're still using a timeframe of between 10 and 15 days when the pipeline will be shut ... and I have promised our customers we will have a sharper target by the end of today."

Mr Post said they were exploring other ways to get jet fuel to Auckland Airport, such as shipping or by road.

Air New Zealand is telling jets in Wellington and Christchurch to stock up on fuel, and is asking planes flying in from Asia and North America to stop and refuel in the Pacific or Australia.

Jetstar said it was rationing fuel and working to minimise the impact on customers.

Mobil Oil New Zealand confirmed a leak in the pipeline from Marsden Point to Wiri, South Auckland - which supplies aviation fuel - had been discovered on Thursday.

Has your flight been cancelled?

Air New Zealand said it would work through any issues for aircraft operations over the next couple of days.

It said it would let customers know directly about flight changes and wanted passengers to check the Auckland Airport website for flight details or its travel alerts.

An airport spokesperson said oil companies were limiting the fuel to airlines.

2/2: This is impacting flights so passengers should contact their airlines or view latest flight information. http://bit.ly/2x4lF2C 

In a statement, Jetstar said they were rationing fuel and were working to minimise the impact on their customers.

It encouraged people who thought their flights might be affected to check the status online.

Cancelled Air New Zealand flights

  • NZ729 - Auckland to Melbourne (Sunday, 17 September)
  • NZ722 - Melbourne to Auckland (Monday, 18 September)
  • NZ543 - Auckland to Christchurch (Monday, 18 September)
  • NZ550 - Christchurch to Auckland (Monday, 18 September)
  • NZ413 - Auckland to Wellington (Monday, 18 September)
  • NZ420 - Wellington to Auckland (Monday, 18 September)
  • NZ437 - Auckland to Wellington (Monday, 18 September)
  • NZ444 - Wellington to Auckland (Monday, 18 September)
  • NZ718 - Sydney to Auckland (Tuesday, 19 September)
  • NZ719 - Auckland to Sydney (Tuesday, 19 September)
  • NZ411 - Auckland to Wellington (Tuesday, 19 September)
  • NZ418 - Wellington to Auckland (Tuesday, 19 September)
  • NZ429 - Auckland to Wellington (Tuesday, 19 September)
  • NZ428 - Wellington to Auckland (Tuesday, 19 September)
  • NZ538 - Christchurch to Auckland (Tuesday, 19 September)
  • NZ543 - Auckland to Christchurch (Tuesday, 19 September)
  • NZ555 - Auckland to Christchurch (Tuesday, 19 September)
  • NZ566 - Christchurch to Auckland (Tuesday, 19 September)

Meanwhile, the government has offered to "work with" airlines hampered by the shortage of jet fuel.

Energy Minister Judith Collins said she had offered government support to Refining NZ and the company was doing all it could to repair the pipeline.

Ms Collins said additional stocks of petrol and diesel were being trucked in directly from the refinery.

She said fuel companies were confident that supply would be maintained and it was unlikely that motorists would be inconvenienced.

Prime Minister Bill English said he had advised ministers to work closely with the affected companies.

Mr English said he did not have details about what impact the shortage could have.

"I've been given a high-level briefing that there is an issue, given instructions to ministers, and the company will be making public statements about it."

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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