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Travellers fume as burst pipeline threatens two weeks of disruption
Tourism companies are fielding calls from worried travellers after 27 flights were cancelled yesterday because of the fuel crisis gripping Auckland Airport.
The oil pipeline from Marsden Pt burst on Thursday after it had been previously damaged by a digger trying to extract kauri logs near Ruakaka.
The fuel shortage threatens to disrupt air travel out of Auckland for up to two weeks.
All flights coming into the city have been advised to carry enough extra fuel to get out again. Long-haul flights are being redirected to refuelling stops at other New Zealand or international airports as oil companies predict it could take 10 to 14 days to restore normal supplies.
Brent Thomas of House of Travel said staff were already handling calls from worried clients.
“It’s an unusual situation — I’ve never seen anything like it in my time in the industry,” said the 20-year veteran. “We have got the school holidays in two weeks’ time, hopefully it’s fixed by then.”
He said travel insurance would typically cover a “reasonable” cost of disruption from such an event but every case was different.
Last night the mood ranged from bemused to angry as passengers at Auckland Airport got varying degrees of help from their airlines. Some faced unplanned stop-offs to refuel at Sydney or Christchurch, the delay meaning they were likely to miss connecting flights elsewhere.
Others would have to wait days to catch their next flight, with no accommodation or transport help and only a voucher for the airport food court to show for their troubles.
Most passengers had to find out through news reports about the fuel leak. No one had received a clear explanation of what had gone wrong or who was at fault, and it seemed some airline staff did not know either.
Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said the airport was working closely with airlines and other stakeholders to monitor the impact of the disruption.
“We will have additional staff in the terminals supporting passengers and addressing any questions . . . We strongly recommend that any passengers travelling over the coming days plan ahead and check with their airline for the latest information.”
Refining NZ spokesman Greg McNeill said it would take days to repair the damage.
“We need to do the repair, test that repair is good, and bring it up very slowly to design pressure. We are still assessing the full extent of the damage. We have excavated around the pipeline to look at it, then it’s what is the method of repair we have to use, and put that in place.”
First Gas, a Vector subsidiary which has the contract to maintain the pipeline, is working with the refining company on the repair. Two engineers from WorleyParsons will arrive from Canada today to help.
Prime Minister Bill English has instructed ministers to “offer all assistance that the Government can” to restore aviation fuel supplies.
Any further flight cancellations could have an impact on the last week of election campaigning. Party leaders have hectic schedules including daily flights in the next five days.
“Advice so far is that there is not likely to be significant disruption to domestic flights,” a spokesman for English said. “If the PM is booked on a flight that is disrupted, alternative arrangements will have to be made just as for any other traveller.”
Aviation commentator Peter Clark called the crisis “an embarrassment”. He believed oil companies needed a better contingency plan as another leak could occur in the future.
“It’s going to cost the country a lot and it’s going to cost airlines a lot.”