Cape Town airport fuel crisis: As airlines scramble, jet fuel vessel finally docks

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Over the weekend ACSA tried to conserve fuel stocks at the airport by reducing fuel the amount that airlines were allowed to refuel.
Over the weekend ACSA tried to conserve fuel stocks at the airport by reducing fuel the amount that airlines were allowed to refuel.
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  • The delayed vessel carrying much-needed jet fuel for Cape Town International Airport has docked in the harbour, according to Airports Company SA.
  • The vessel, which was due to arrive in Cape Town nine days ago, was delayed owing to continued bad weather.
  • One international carrier has had to cancel flights because it could not obtain jet fuel.
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The delayed vessel carrying much-needed jet fuel for Cape Town International Airport has docked in the harbour and jet fuel deliveries to the airport are expected to resume on Tuesday evening, after the necessary quality processes have been completed, Airports Company SA (ACSA) confirmed on Monday.

The vessel, which was due to arrive in Cape Town nine days ago, was delayed owing to continued bad weather.

Over the weekend ACSA tried to conserve fuel stocks at the airport by reducing the amount that airlines were allowed to refuel.

On Saturday, the US carrier United Airlines announced that it had cancelled its direct flight from Newark in the US to Cape Town which was scheduled for Monday, as well as the return flight on Tuesday. This was due to the airline not being able to obtain the necessary jet fuel for the return leg.

So far, Flysafair has not had to cancel any flights, but its spokesperson Kirby Gordon described the Cape Town jet fuel situation as "a nightmare".

"The potential additional stock we tried to obtain from an alternative source did not work out because it did not pass the purity test. However, we managed to secure a smaller additional amount which took us through Saturday and Sunday. We also managed to fill up a couple of tankers elsewhere in the country and had them driven down to Cape Town," Gordon said on Monday.

"That should see us through Monday and Tuesday and possibly Wednesday. We are trying to land in Cape Town with as much fuel remaining as possible so that we just have to top up. If that fails for some reason, we would have to do the same as international flights have been told to do, namely to make technical stops elsewhere - for example in George - along the way back to fill up. This would mean a disruption, but at least not a cancelled flight."

Jonathan Ayache, CEO of LIFT, said on Monday they have been monitoring the situation very closely and were concerned that Cape Town might run dry. 

"We remained in close contact with our fuel suppliers and ensured that we managed our supply allocated to us in Cape Town, for example by tankering fuel out of Johannesburg since early last week to buy us more time," he explained.

"We should, therefore, be okay unless something unforeseen happens. It is very concerning that the situation at the airport had got to this."

Although no Airlink flights have been cancelled, in order to carry the additional weight of tankered fuel, some of its flights have not been able to carry as much hold luggage or cargo as they usually would, a spokesperson said on Monday.

"Cape Town International continues to engage airlines and fuel suppliers to ensure a reduction in the uplift of fuel while maintaining operational continuity. This has ensured that flight disruptions are minimised, and to date, [only] one airline has had to cancel their international flight," says ACSA spokesperson Gopolang Peme.

"We would like to urge international travellers to arrive at least four hours prior to departure as this will assist in their facilitation."

ACSA said in a statement on Sunday that its fuel forum has been transparent all along in providing stakeholders with up to date information. This was in reaction to an industry insider accusing ACSA of not being open about the extent of the jet fuel crisis at the airport in Cape Town.

Update: SAA has not cancelled any flights to or from Cape Town due to the jet fuel crunch.

"We are pleased to report that due to the demand, SAA is up gauging the aircraft on the Cape Town route. SAA has sufficient fuel reserves and customers are advised not to panic as the situation is under control," the airline's spokesperson Vimla Maistry said on Tuesday. "There are various entities busy working to resolve this problem and we are pleased to report that the teams are making head way."

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