Time to assess the damage – and its future limitation – at Auckland Airport

Marsden Point
Marsden Point

We’ve reported on the fuel outage at Auckland Airport recently on our blog, and there is light at the end of the tunnel – or should we say pipeline. eJet MD John Pitts looks at where the situation is now and what questions need to be asked to prevent issues such as this happening again in the future. 

Fuel is now understood to be flowing through the Marsden Point pipeline, and we also have some clarity around the cause of the problem: a digger excavating ground damaged the pipeline.

This is an example of an unexpected event that has had a massive impact on the airport, the airlines and their passengers. No doubt the city itself and its inhabitants and tourist industry will also have suffered.

So while the immediate crisis may now be over, the airport is still vulnerable because until something changes there is nothing to stop this happening again with the same consequences. An investigation is now necessary – and this needs to focus on two areas.

1. Why did the pipeline fail? Yes, it was a digger, but how did this come to intrude and cause damage?  Was the pipeline’s location properly marked in the locality? Was information available in the public domain to advise those working near the pipeline of their safeguarding and legal obligations? We do this in the UK: http://www.linewatch.co.uk

2. How can jet fuel supply into the airport be made more robust? There need to be measures in place to prevent a repeat of the pipeline failure, of course. But there probably needs to be a credible alternative means of fuel supply into Auckland and its airport as well. This will require a risk assessment and a holistic review of all existing assets and how they currently interact – and most importantly, how they should interact in the future. There may be a requirement for new infrastructure – which may be a bitter financial pill to swallow, but may be unavoidable.

The environmental impacts of the pipeline failure must not be forgotten, but putting them to one side, other impacts come into focus. The economic damage to New Zealand of the supply outage, let alone to the city of Auckland and its airport, is not yet available for review – and these impacts will be felt for some time. While the potential costs may seem high now, this is not a time for penny pinching – because in the scale of things mitigating the risk of future pipeline failures will be money well spent.

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