Fuel shortage hits more flights, petrol stations

Thousands of passengers at Auckland Airport have been disrupted. Photo: ODT files
Thousands of passengers at Auckland Airport have been disrupted. Photo: ODT files
Air New Zealand is restricting ticket sales and will cancel some international flights as it deals with the shortage of jet fuel at Auckland International Airport.

A major pipeline in the North Island between the Marsden Point refinery and petrol company-owned Wiri storage depot failed last Thursday, disrupting fuel supply to the country's biggest city and forcing airlines to ration flights in an effort to conserve fuel.

The rupture is believed to have been caused by a digger working some months ago in farmland near Ruakaka in Northland. 

The pipeline is a critical link for getting fuel to Auckland, and especially for the city's airport, because there is no other way to transport jet fuel from the refinery south of Whangarei.

Flights have been disrupted since the weekend. On Tuesday, 39 flights had to be cancelled - 13 of them international - with concerns the crisis may spread after petrol stations in Auckland halted sales of high-octane fuel.

About 3000 passengers will be affected by cancellations on Wednesday, which include five Australian services, two Fiji services and a return service to Vietnam.  

Air New Zealand said it is restricting ticket sales, including stopping all sales of some international services.

The fuel shortage comes only days before Saturday's general election, with infrastructure shortages a hotly contested issue.

The New Zealand Defence Force, which cancelled an exercise with Singapore to save fuel, was trucking supplies around the country in an attempt to ease the shortage. The HMNZS Endeavour naval tanker will shift diesel from the refinery to other parts of the country.

Government officials have been asked to avoid non-essential air travel.

Air New Zealand said on Tuesday it was beginning to refuel long-haul aircraft at the international airport in the capital, Wellington. Flights to and from Auckland have stopped at airports in Australia and Pacific islands including Fiji to refuel.

The national carrier said in a statement it was restricting ticket sales, which it called an "unusual step", and that it will not accept any last-minute cargo, except for important medical equipment.

New Zealand's largest fuel supplier, Z Energy, said on Tuesday that gasoline for some high-end cars was not available at 13 of its stations in Auckland.

"While air travel will continue to be affected until the pipeline is fully operational, the fuel industry has advised Government that impacts on petrol and diesel supply for motorists are minimal," said Judith Collins, the Minister of Energy and Resources.

The Government has come under criticism for what has been deemed an infrastructure failure as it faces a tight contest with the newly invigorated Labour Party.

The damaged pipeline is owned by New Zealand Refining and the company has told local media that initial investigations showed a digger had scraped the pipe.

"The fact that one digger can cause our international travel to be ground to a halt shows how vulnerable that infrastructure was and the National government ignored that," Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

New Zealand's air traffic control provider Airways said on its website it was implementing fuel conservation measures, which involve organising aircraft landing and take-offs in such a way as to minimise the amount of time they spend in the air to save fuel. It expects up to 10 days of disruptions for passengers.

A spokesman for New Zealand Refining told Reuters on Monday the pipeline was closed for repairs and was expected to return to 70% capacity by Septemer 24 to 26. 

Ms Collins on Tuesday said industry has told the Government the impact on "petrol and diesel supply for motorists are minimal".

She said Immigration New Zealand is advising international visitors whose visas may expire that they will be granted an electronic visa free of charge.

- Reuters and BusinessDesk


Bright Side: fewer emissions of carbon and Avgas. Always a bright side to a disaster.