ORT fuel crisis: Thousands hit by scrapped flights, rail supplies only restored by October

There is no fuel crisis at any of ACSA's other airports in the country.

There is no fuel crisis at any of ACSA’s other airports in the country. Getty Images

  • Two airlines have cancelled 15 flights, affecting 3 250 passengers, to OR Tambo International Airport amid a shortage of jet fuel. 
  • The fuel shortage at OR Tambo International Airport is due to the impact of the KZN floods on rail deliveries – which may only be fully restored by October.
  • The Central Energy Fund has agreed to make about 1.5 million litres available for emergency use at OR Tambo if supply does not meet demand. 

Following flood damage to railways in KwaZulu-Natal, transporting jet fuel from Durban to the OR Tambo International Airport by rail will likely only be 100% restored by the end of October this year, Airports Company SA (ACSA) said on Monday.

The airport is currently suffering a shortage of fuel supplies as a result.

Currently there are about 3.5 days’ supply at OR Tambo. A supply of five or more days is usually regarded as “more comfortable”, ACSA CEO Mpumi Mpofu said during a briefing on Monday afternoon.

Due to a shortage of jet fuel supplies, two airlines have temporarily cancelled flights. One international airline cancelled operations from 24 April to 1 May – a total 14 flights and about 3 150 passengers impacted. Another airline cancelled its flights on 24 April only, impacting about 100 passengers.

“While overall stock levels are stable [at OR Tambo], certain suppliers impacted by a declared force majeure [due to flood impacts] are still unable to acquire the quantities of jet fuel they require. Airlines do not use the same fuel supplier, and as a result not all are equally impacted,” explained Mpofu.

Some airlines have resorted to refueling in Durban and even Windhoek. Mpofu emphasised that there isn’t a fuel crisis at any of ACSA’s other airports in the country.

On Monday, the Department of Minerals and Energy and the Central Energy Fund (CEF) said they were working at providing about 1.5 million litres of jet fuel to OR Tambo in case of a “mismatch” between supply and demand at the OR Tambo airport. The supply from the CEF will come from Mozambique and will be transported to SA either by road or rail.

“Our plan B is to ensure that, if an airline cannot get fuel from its normal supplier, the CEF stock kicks in,” said Mpofu.

A consignment of jet fuel by ship has arrived at the Durban port and is being pumped into the National Petroleum Refiners South Africa (NATREF) refinery. It is currently the only refinery in the country that produces jet fuel. About 70% of jet fuel used in SA is imported.

Meanwhile, ACSA was informed by Transnet Freight Rail that it expects its full rail capacity between Durban and the airport to be fully restored by 30 October this year. Transnet expects at least 50% of its normal rail capacity from the coast will be restored by about 9 June. Jet fuel is also transported from Durban to OR Tambo via a pipeline.

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