BLOG: How did Auckland Airport get it so wrong?

The need for a contingency plan has never been highlighted more than the current fuel shortage at Auckland Airport. eJet MD, John Pitts, discusses the impact it will have, and why airports must consider their back up plans.

The aviation fuel shortage in Auckland will come as no surprise to many, and the security of supply has been on the agenda for some years.

As early as 2005 this was raised in the New Zealand parliament, and since then there has been little or no contingency put in place for the 80-mile pipeline that transports fuels of different types to Auckland – including jet fuel for Auckland Airport. Now that the pipeline has ruptured close to its origin, Auckland Airport is running low on jet fuel with no viable alternative, leaving airlines with difficult choices and of course impacting operations on the ground.

The contingency issue highlights the lack of redundancy in the supply chain – in other words, credible alternative methods of supplying meaningful quantities of jet fuel to the airport in an emergency – or alternatives to open up supply choices for commercial reasons.

We do not see that plans to import jet fuel from New Zealand’s only refinery into Wynyard Wharf in Auckland, and then truck it into Auckland Airport, will have much impact. This is because by the time tanks at Wynyard have sufficient jet fuel in them ready to use, the damaged pipeline should be repaired – and the infrastructure to handle the required fuel quantities simply does not exist. Therefore in this instance, airlines will have to try to survive the next 10 or so days. But as a future component of a full contingency plan, Wynyard may hold merit.

We believe that a supply chain study may have started but our understanding is that it is a cost-driven exercise and therefore not an expertise-driven exercise. This is short-sighted. Right now it is clear that all available resources must be focused on fixing the pipeline. However in the short-term a holistic study into contingencies and a hardening of the supply chain is imperative. The nature of this airport, where any international flight is at least medium haul, requires it to have redundancy and realistic alternative sources of fuel.

All relevant stakeholders, including the airlines which are suffering from this, must be involved and not ‘ivory tower’ consultants who may lack the expertise and experience that is required to professionally evaluate the options.

Other airports should also consider their plans.

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