Burst fuel pipe to disrupt New Zealand flights through week

By , on September 17, 2017


Views over Auckland International Airport, Auckland City, New Zealand, taking from a light plane taking off for Great Barrier Island westwards, then circling around to the north and east in the image series. (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
Views over Auckland International Airport, Auckland City, New Zealand, taking from a light plane taking off for Great Barrier Island westwards, then circling around to the north and east in the image series. (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A rupture in the main pipeline carrying jet fuel to New Zealand’s largest airport has disrupted the travel plans of thousands of people and is expected to cause further flight cancellations and delays into next week.

Auckland Airport spokeswoman Lisa Mulitalo said Monday that 41 international and domestic flights have been cancelled since Saturday due to low jet fuel supplies. She said other flights have been delayed or re-routed.

Mulitalo said the airport handles about 465 flights daily and most are still operating as normal. She said the airport is urging travellers to check their flight information online and get in contact with their airline if needed.

Air New Zealand said fuel supplies at the airport are only about 30 per cent of normal levels and 2,000 of its customers will be affected on Monday alone.

Some of its flights are being cancelled while others to North America and Asia are being redirected to refuelling stops at airports in the Pacific or Australia, the airline said.

“Aviation is a critical transport industry and the lifeblood for tourism and we are naturally extremely disappointed with this infrastructure failure,” Air New Zealand captain David Morgan said in a statement.

The underground pipeline runs about 170 kilometres (106 miles) from an oil refinery to Auckland.

Greg McNeill, a spokesman for pipeline owner Refining New Zealand, said a digger or other machinery appears to have damaged the pipe and then acidic soil had corroded it further until it failed Thursday.

He said his company should be able to fix the pipe and have it operating again by Sept. 26 at the latest, although it would take another 30 hours after the jet fuel arrives in Auckland for it to settle and be recertified.

McNeill said operators first noticed a drop in pressure in the pipeline on Thursday afternoon, and teams flew overhead by helicopter to locate the leak.

He said about 60,000 litres (16,000 gallons) of fuel spilled from the rupture. He said the leaked fuel was contained in the surrounding soil and in a culvert and had not seeped into waterways.

McNeill said that when crews dug up the pipeline, they found it had been dented and a protective coating removed, indicating it had been hit by machinery. There was no machinery still in the area, McNeill added.

He said the pipeline, which extends from the Marsden Point Oil Refinery north of Auckland to the Auckland suburb of Wiri, had been operating successfully since 1985 without any major leaks before Thursday.

He said installing a second pipeline, as some people are calling for in light of the leak and flight disruptions, would require a big commitment from the industry and cost about 300 million New Zealand dollars ($220 million).