Thousands of airline passengers are stranded in Auckland after a burst pipeline cut fuel supplies to New Zealand’s largest airport.The pipeline is Auckland Airport’s only source of jet fuel.
Local media said it was damaged by a digger on a rural property, causing a leak and the pipeline to be closed.
Fuel supplies have been rationed and airlines are looking to refuel in Australia and elsewhere to keep long-haul services running.
About 2,000 passengers were affected by cancellations on Monday, according to Air New Zealand.
The disruption is expected to last at least a week as repair work continues, the pipeline’s operator said.
Government ‘not responsible’
The New Zealand Herald said the damage to the pipeline is believed to have occurred months ago, near Ruakaka, about 130km (80 miles) south of the city.
But it was reported to have burst on Thursday.
Air New Zealand said fuel supplies at the airport were down to 30% of normal capacity, forcing some long-haul flights to make additional refuelling stops at airports in Australia and the Pacific.
“Aviation is a critical transport industry and the lifeblood for tourism. We are naturally extremely disappointed with this infrastructure failure,” it said.
Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Emirates also said that some flights had been affected by the fuel shortage. At least 27 international and domestic flights were cancelled over the weekend.
Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett denied the government was responsible for the failure. “It’s a private company that owns it and you would expect them to have better contingency plans,” she told Radio New Zealand.
The pipeline is operated by Refining NZ, which said “a 30-strong team has been working on a 24-hour basis over the last four days” to repair the damage.
The Green Party and environmental advocacy group Greenpeace were among those that expressed concern about potential contamination of the surrounding land.
Refining NZ said in a statement that “most of the jet fuel has now been recovered from the leak site”.
Chief executive Sjoerd Posts said the area would need to be decontaminated.
The building of a new section of pipe has been complicated by heavy rains and safety concerns.
A spokesperson involved in the repairs told Radio New Zealand that any spark from welding gear could cause an explosion.
The pipeline should return to service between 24 and 26 September, Refining NZ said.
Although it also supplies petrol and diesel to drivers in Auckland, it is unlikely that motorists will face fuel shortages, energy minister Judith Collins said, noting that fuel was being trucked in from the refinery.