South Africa’s airports are joining forces with oil companies, as well as state-owned logistics company Transnet, to tackle the looming threat of a possible jet fuel shortage at OR Tambo International Airport.
US carrier United Airlines already scrapped some flights over the weekend due to fears over fuel constraints.
Earlier on Tuesday, the South African Petroleum Industry Association (SAPIA) warned that movement of jet fuel was challenging due to the impact of the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal. Rail deliveries were impacted by extensive damage to railway lines.
On Tuesday night, Airports Company South Africa chief executive Mpumi Mpofu said at present the supply is still meeting airlines’ demands. But, ACSA added in a statement, some 140 sections of Transnet freight lines were damaged on the route to Johannesburg – and of the 67 rail tanks en route to OR Tambo, only 11 arrived, with 56 left behind.
It is estimated that Transnet Freight Rail will only be able to repair the damaged rail infrastructure by 9 June, meaning ACSA, TFR and oil companies have had to come up with a game plan in the meantime.
Now, the 56 rail tanks will be taken to NATREF in Sasolburg and be piped to OR Tambo.
Meanwhile ACSA has issued a so-called Notice to Airmen – which is used to communicate with pilots – to formally notify international and domestic airlines across the globe, where necessary, to refuel from other ACSA airports.
“OR Tambo is currently operating on three to four days’ worth of stock which will be sustained over the next six weeks,” ACSA said. “We have confirmation by National Petroleum Refiners of South Africa (NATREF) of an additional supply of 14 million litres of jet fuel. Additionally, we are expecting a shipment of 10 million litres on 5 May which will assist in stabilising ACSA’s fuel levels to approximately three to four days’ worth of stock.”
South African Petroleum Industry Association (SAPIA) earlier confirmed that jet fuel stocks at OR Tambo are “low but not critical” and could still, for the moment, accommodate demand.
But it too was looking at alternatives to supply jet fuel to OR Tambo and to mitigate the risk of running out of stock there. The supply of jet fuel to other airports across the country remains steady and there is sufficient product available, SAPIA said.
Not all the airlines use the same fuel supplier, so they are not all equally impacted.
According to United Airlines’ website, its next flight – from Newark in the US to Johannesburg on 27 April – has not been cancelled.
A reliable source had told Fin24 earlier that some international airlines might arrange to refuel at other African destinations on their return flights until the constraints at OR Tambo are resolved.
OR Tambo faced a similar fuel crunch at the end of March, when at one point the stock was down to 1.6 days’ levels. According to correspondence seen by Fin24 at the time, one of the fuel suppliers alerted an airline to make sure it fills up at its regional hub before it flew to OR Tambo as there was no guarantee that there will be enough fuel for its return flight.
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