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Picture: 123RF/VANBEETS
Picture: 123RF/VANBEETS

Jet fuel supply at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is back to normal after weeks of supply uncertainty disrupted the schedules of airlines, leading to potentially huge financial losses.

Supplies of jet fuel to OR Tambo, one of Africa’s busiest airports, were interrupted due to flood damage to railway lines in KwaZulu-Natal, which hampered transport. SA depends on jet fuel supply through both local production and imports, which account for 70% of supply. Much of the imported stock is moved by rail.

In a joint update on Tuesday, industry representatives and the Airports Company SA (Acsa), which runs SA’s airports, said OR Tambo had almost six days’ of jet fuel supply, up from three-and-a-half days last week. The usual availability is five days.

Acsa CEO Mpumi Mpofu said last week two international airlines cancelled 14 flights between April 27 and May 1 as a result of the uncertainty around fuel supply, affecting 3,150 passengers. This cost Acsa at least R1.5m in passenger fees and “hundreds of thousands” in landing fees. There have been no further cancellations.

According to the update, the SA Petroleum Industry Association, the trade organisation representing the main petroleum and liquefied petroleum gas companies in the country, has fully injected the 20-million litres of jet fuel they had guaranteed into the multi-product pipeline in Durban.

This fuel is expected to arrive at Sasol’s refinery in Sasolburg this week and the first batch is expected to get to OR Tambo by May 27. This is in addition to the weekly 16-million litres transported directly from the facility to OR Tambo via the dedicated Transnet jet fuel pipeline.

The Central Energy Fund (CEF), the government-backed energy utility, has committed an additional 1.5-million litres, which is expected to arrive at OR Tambo before the end of the month.

Transnet has enabled rail services from Matola, Mozambique, to OR Tambo allowing at least 1.1-million litres per week to be supplied to the airport from the beginning of May. A further 1.9-million litres of jet fuel is expected to arrive on Wednesday from Durban via rail. This is part of Transnet’s business continuity plan to ensure security of supply.

Transnet is pushing to repair at least 50% of the rail line by June, with the rest of the reconstruction project set to be finalised by October.  

The shortage of jet fuel disrupted the schedules of airlines, especially international carriers, forcing some of them to cancel flights or refuel at other airports in the country or the region, which increased their costs as they had to pay landing fees at other airports. 

In the joint statement, Acsa and various affected industry bodies said they are of the view that there is no need for airlines to refuel at other airports or cancel scheduled flights.

George Mothema, CEO of the Board of Airline Representatives of SA, which represents international carriers operating in the country, said that with the fuel stock levels improving, airlines do not anticipate any disruptions.

He said, however, many international airlines are counting their losses after they incurred additional landing fees at other airports. The association is still tallying the losses, Mothema said.  



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