Refuelling problem at OR Tambo resolved, with lessons learned, says ACSA

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Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) says it has resolved a technical issue with refueling of aircraft that hit 41 flights at OR Tambo International Airport on 28 December, and it is putting in place new measures to ensure the problem doesn't recur.

There was a technical issue with the main supply valve that provides fuel to the apron, or the area where aircraft are parked. This caused delays to domestic and international departures, prompting the use of tankers to refuel aircraft.

Speaking after an oversight visit by the Transport Ministry, ACSA CEO Mpumi Mpofu said problems began when a fuel hydrant tightness control test failed to commence at 03:00, but the problem was being solved by 08:30, with the significant numbers of delays due to the knock-on effect on flights for the rest of the day.

The emergency shutdown valve that connects the fuel pump to the hydrant failed to actuate, and remained closed. While the manual mode of operations was attempted, it was not successful.

Maintenance staff then disassembled the valve and it was discovered that the main centre bearing had seized, leading to the problem, she said.

"That knock-on effect took us literally almost a whole day to recover and bring back flights on schedule," she said.

While ACSA didn't have a spare parts problem, it recognised the need to implement speedier replacement, Mpofu said.

Other measures being put in place include additional tanker capacity, and a bypass line to allow for continuity of supply should there be another failure.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said the incident had sown confusion among travellers, including prompting uncertainty over whether they would face similar problems when returning, and been a "shock to the system."

"We are confident that we have passed the crisis mode ... as we embark on coming back from holidays and going into the future," he said.

Mpofu said December had been a good month for traffic, with up to 80% recovery from 2019. Further details would be provided in coming weeks. ACSA did not yet have a figure on the financial cost of the disruption, she added.

Mpofu also reiterated that ACSA believed its fuel supply challenges were behind it, amid shortages earlier in the year due to the KwaZulu-Natal floods that disrupted transport. Among the measures being put in place, was a programme to allow transport of jet fuel by road, adding to deliveries via pipeline and rail.

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