Flights cancelled at OR Tambo as KZN floods impact jet fuel supply

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Fin24 understands the current average available fuel stock at OR Tambo is for about three days' worth of demand as opposed to a better average of about seven days.
Fin24 understands the current average available fuel stock at OR Tambo is for about three days' worth of demand as opposed to a better average of about seven days.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Jet fuel supply constraints at OR International Airport have led to at least one carrier having to cancel flights over the weekend.

US carrier United Airlines cancelled its flight from Newark, New Jersey to Johannesburg on 24 April, as well as the corresponding return flight. United said in a statement this was due to "airport-wide supply issues" in Johannesburg.

Jet fuel is not refined in SA anymore and must be imported. But as recent floods battered KwaZulu-Natal, a backlog was created in the supply chain of imported jet fuel via the Durban port to OR Tambo, an industry insider told Fin24. But, he added, the floods only made an already "sporadically concerning situation" at OR Tambo worse.

Fin24 understands the current average available fuel stock at OR Tambo is for about three days' worth of demand as opposed to a better average of about seven days, and this week will be crucial in terms of insuring increased levels.

"We [reached] out to our customers to help them make alternate plans. We will continue to monitor the situation and will make further adjustments as needed," said United after it cancelled its flights.

At the end of March there were also concerns about jet fuel supplies at OR Tambo and at one point the stock was down to 1.6 days' levels. According to correspondence seen by Fin24 at the time, one of the fuel suppliers alerted an airline to make sure it fills up at its regional hub before it flew to OR Tambo as there was no guarantee that there will be enough fuel for its return flight.

At that time the management of Airports Company SA at OR Tambo responded to Fin24 that bulk jet fuel is supplied and managed by a third party on behalf of ACSA. The agreement with this third party is that, at all times, there needs to be a supply of jet fuel in storage enough to cover average daily consumption.

Not all the airlines use the same fuel supplier, so they are not all equally impacted currently, if at all. Flysafair said on Monday that it pre-plans and has been able to maintain its schedule.

"Of course, domestic flights need much less fuel than those huge aircraft on long haul routes," said Flysafair spokesperson Kirby Gordon.

Comair, which operates kulula.com and British Airways domestically, said it was not aware of any fuel shortages at OR Tambo.

One reliable source told Fin24 that some international airlines might have to refuel at other African destinations on their return flights until the constraints at OR Tambo are resolved.

* Both ACSA and the South African Petroleum Industry Association (SAPIA) said on Monday morning that they planned to issue statements. This article will be updated when they do. 

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