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Emergency measures put in place to stabilise jet fuel supply at OR Tambo International Airport

Supplies curtailed due to flood damage to railway lines in KwaZulu-Natal

09 May 2022 - 08:07 By Bekezela Phakathi
SA depends on jet fuel supply through local production and imports. File photo.
SA depends on jet fuel supply through local production and imports. File photo.
Image: 123RF/KANTVER

Government says emergency contingency measures have been implemented to ensure a steady supply of jet fuel at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg amid fears the crisis could derail the recovery of the aviation industry.

Supplies of jet fuel to the airport, one of the busiest in Africa, have been curtailed in recent weeks due to flood damage to railway lines in KwaZulu-Natal which interrupted transport. The shortage of jet fuel has disrupted the schedules of airlines, especially international carriers, forcing them into refuelling detours and potentially increasing their costs.  

At the weekend the transport department said supplies of jet fuel will come through a special pipeline consignment. A ship carrying a consignment of fuel arrived at the Durban port on May 5. 

“The process to pump the fuel into the [Sasol’s Sasolburg] Natref refinery will begin. The fuel will be piped to OR Tambo to ensure availability for aircraft once the quality control process is concluded,” the department said.

SA depends on jet fuel supply through local production and imports, the SA Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) said. But rail deliveries have been paused as a result of extensive damage to railway lines in KwaZulu-Natal.

Transnet Freight Rail is pushing to get a portion of the rail system between Durban and Johannesburg operational from mid-June, which will restore at least 50% of the usual rail capacity from the coast. 

The Airports Company SA (Acsa), which runs SA’s airports, said overall stock levels at OR Tambo are stable. Acsa has indicated that an expected volume of about 20-million litres of jet fuel will come through a special pipeline consignment. Airlines are responsible for procuring their own fuel, and Acsa provides storage.

Acsa recently issued a notice to formally notify international and domestic airlines across the globe, where necessary, to refuel at other airports in the country.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula said airlines are working with Acsa to ensure there are no disruptions to their operations “by making technical stops to refuel at other airports”,  such as King Shaka International Airport in Durban.

Aaron Munetsi, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa, which represents all big carriers in SA and the region, said while the fuel situation at OR Tambo remains critical, there are signs of improvement.  

The association “is in daily contact with Acsa and Sapia. The latest report [from May 6] indicates the airport has 6.4 days worth of fuel stock at current demand levels and should not present a problem for fuel suppliers to the airlines,” Munetsi said.

He said far domestic and regional flights have not been affected, partly because they can easily refuel at other local airports.

Acsa CEO Mpumi Mpofu is scheduled to speak at a media conference on Monday to update SA about the jet fuel issue at OR Tambo International Airport.

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