WELLINGTON • New Zealand's jet fuel shortage forced 39 flights to be cancelled yesterday, 13 of them international, with concerns the crisis might spread after fuel stations in the country's largest city, Auckland, halted high-octane petrol sales.
The fuel shortage, caused by a damaged pipeline to Auckland Airport, has caused widespread disruption to air travel since the weekend and comes only days before Saturday's national election, with infrastructure shortages a hotly contested issue.
New Zealand's military was trucking fuel supplies around the country in a bid to ease the shortage, and government officials have been asked to avoid non-essential air travel.
Air New Zealand said yesterday it was beginning to refuel long-haul aircraft at the international airport in the capital, Wellington. Flights to and from Auckland have stopped at airports in Australia and the Pacific islands, such as Fiji, to refuel.
The airline said in a statement it was restricting its ticket sales, which it called an "unusual step", and that it would not accept any last-minute cargo, except for important medical equipment.
New Zealand's largest fuel supplier, Z Energy, said petrol for some high-end cars was not available at 13 of its stations in Auckland, according to a spokesman.
"While air travel will continue to be affected until the pipeline is fully operational, the fuel industry has advised government that impacts on petrol and diesel supply for motorists are minimal," said Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins.
The government has come under criticism for what has been deemed an infrastructure failure as it faces a tight contest with the newly invigorated Labour Party.
One pipeline, one digger and New Zealand grinds to a halt.
NEW ZEALAND OPPOSITION LEADER JACINDA ARDERN
The damaged pipeline is owned by Refining NZ, and the company has told local media that initial investigations showed a digger had scraped the pipe.
"The fact that one digger can cause our international travel to be ground to a halt shows how vulnerable that infrastructure was, and the national government ignored that," Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.
New Zealand's air traffic control provider Airways said on its website that it was implementing fuel conservation measures, which involve organising airplane landings and take-offs in such a way as to minimise the amount of time they spend in the air to save fuel. It expects up to 10 days of disruptions to passengers.
A spokesman for Refining NZ told Reuters on Monday that the pipeline was closed for repairs and was expected to return to 70 per cent capacity by Sept 24 to 26.