Grant Bradley: Big ques­tions to come

The New Zealand Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Grant Bradley com­ment

Air­lines are used to deal­ing with the un­ex­pected. But a fuel pipe­line rup­ture in a North­land swamp where a dig­ger was work­ing would have been way down the list of the con­tin­gen­cies they pre­pare for.

Un­cer­tainty has been thrown around the travel plans of tens of thou­sands as yet an­other fail­ure has ex­posed the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of part of the coun­try’s in­fra­struc­ture.

The dam­aged pipe­line car­ry­ing avi­a­tion fuel from Mars­den Pt to Auck­land Air­port joins the list in­clud­ing an over­heated un­der­ground ca­ble which plunged Auck­land into dark­ness in 1998, a D-shackle which failed caus­ing a ma­jor power out­age in the north of the coun­try in 2006 and a bro­ken gas line in Taranaki which caused eco­nomic dis­rup­tion just af­ter the All Blacks had won the 2011 World Cup.

The full im­pact of the avi­a­tion fuel pipe­line fail­ure will be­come clear this week. Right now air­lines are fo­cus­ing on re­ar­rang­ing flight sched­ules which is go­ing to mean dis­rup­tion for many pas­sen­gers, par­tic­u­larly those who have con­nec­tions over­seas or tours to join, and pos­si­bly ex­porters. Air­lines could face trade-offs be­tween how many peo­ple to carry and how much freight to ship.

A phone con­fer­ence be­tween air­line bosses yes­ter­day was about how they all could work through this prob­lem rather than re­crim­i­na­tions.

The big­ger ques­tions will come later. Why was there a dig­ger near the pipe­line? Is it time for a backup fuel line? Is there enough fuel stor­age nearer New Zealand’s ma­jor gate­way through which 18 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year pass? Who pays to for­tify in­fra­struc­ture?

Just as every pas­sen­ger’s cir­cum­stances are unique, the same goes for air­lines. Those with greater fleet flex­i­bil­ity will be able to put on larger air­craft to ef­fec­tively tanker fuel into Auck­land.

Those from fur­ther afield could be forced to put down at air­ports in Aus­tralia or the Pa­cific Is­lands.

Con­sid­er­able ef­fort goes into at­tract­ing air­lines and they de­serve bet­ter. It’s cold com­fort for those on the dozens of flights that have al­ready been can­celled and those un­set­tled about fu­ture flights but the tim­ing could have been worse.

The school hol­i­days are still two weeks off and the main big in­flux of over­seas vis­i­tors comes in sum­mer. A tourism group says the coun­try’s in­ter­na­tional im­age will not be tar­nished, but it doesn’t help.

Yet an­other fail­ure has ex­posed the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of . . . in­fra­struc­ture.

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