Full sto­ries and in­fo­graphic

Trav­ellers fume as burst pipe­line threat­ens two weeks of dis­rup­tion

The New Zealand Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

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