September 20, 2017
Broken fuel supply pipe results in 3,000 people a day being affected by cancelled flights as fuel rationing is expected to continue until next Thursday
New Zealand’s jet fuel crisis is worsening by the day with airlines restricting ticket sales, politicians limiting travel to essential flights only on some routes in the final days of the election campaign and all but the most critical exports halted.
Rationing is set to continue for another week after a digger on Thursday struck the sole jet fuel, diesel and petrol supply pipe to Auckland, the country’s biggest city and major transport hub for international visitors.
Three thousand people a day are being affected by cancelled domestic and international flights. Another 6,000 people will be impacted by delays or disruptions to normal service, Air New Zealand said, and it had taken the “unusual” step of restricting ticket sales to all but essential or compassionate travel to try and manage the shortage.
As a result of the tightening fuel shortage, all airlines stopping in Auckland are only able to upload 30% of their normal capacity of jet fuel and the government has instructed its employees to cancel all non-essential travel. Export goods are being off-loaded from domestic and international flights unless they are at risk of rotting to lighten the load.
Some international routes have been cancelled altogether or diverted to Australia and Fiji until the crisis is resolved.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) September 18, 2017
Although the jet fuel supply pipe is privately owned and operated, opposition Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has criticized the government’s lack of investment in vital infrastructure in Auckland, as the ruling National party instructed its staffers and candidates around the country to restrict campaigning in the final days of the general election to save on jet fuel.
“One pipeline and one digger and New Zealand grinds to a halt,” said Ardern on Tuesday.
Prime minister Bill English said his government was taking the shortage “very seriously” and his campaign team would be travelling by bus around the North Island and avoiding air travel.
English said the pipe was expected to be repaired between Sunday and Tuesday.
“The job [of fixing the pipe] does have to be done safely and properly and I am advised it is being done under fairly difficult conditions with what is essentially a dangerous substance.”
A 2012 report from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said a major disruption to the Auckland jet fuel supply could cost New Zealand NZ$400-500m in lost export and tourism dollars and said truck drivers might need to be brought in from Australia to assist with overland transportation.
Petrol and diesel supplies have also been affected by the damaged pipe, with both fuels being driven overland to Auckland from other supply points in the North Island, and the defence force called in to assist with transportation and logistics, including the naval tanker HMNZS Endeavour.
Traffic lights have been synced in Auckland to allow fuel trucks quick passage through the congested city, and petrol stations have been allowed to refuel throughout the night to ensure Auckland’s population of 1.4 million doesn’t run out.
Despite there being no reported shortages of 91 petrol or diesel, there have been reports of some residents panic-buying in Auckland.
The length of time it is taking to fix the supply pipe to Auckland has been criticised by aviation officials, airlines and frustrated passengers with the initial estimate for the repairs ballooning from two days to as much as 15.
Auckland chamber of commerce CEO said the situation made New Zealand look “third world”. He told Radio NZ that the nation’s international reputation had been damaged.
Auckland Airport CEO Adrian Littlewood told Radio NZ the fuel crisis was having “serious consequences”.
Immigration NZ said it was assisting people whose New Zealand visas have expired or are about to expire due to flight cancellations or postponements, and the International Energy Agency was monitoring the situation.
With the New Zealand election just three days away the jet fuel crisis has put pressure on the government, which has been been criticised for failing to adequately invest in infrastructure or heed advice that the sole supply line to Auckland was vulnerable.
The Green party has called the fuel leak a “debacle” and demanded the Northland regional council and Refining NZ release scientific evidence to prove no environmental damage had occurred.