'Cancel flights' order as NZ faces fuel crisis

New Zealand’s lawmakers and public employees were told to cancel nonessential flights to and from Auckland as a fuel shortage continued to disrupt the travel plans of thousands.

A worker drives a vehicle across the tarmac past aircraft bearing the logos of Emirates, Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific airlines at Auckland Airport in New Zealand, June 25, 2017.

New Zealand’s lawmakers and public employees were told Tuesday to cancel all nonessential flights to and from Auckland as a fuel shortage at the nation’s largest airport continued to disrupt the travel plans of thousands.

The main pipeline that carries jet fuel to Auckland Airport ruptured last week. Since then, at least 70 domestic and international flights have been canceled, including 29 on Tuesday. Other flights have been delayed or rerouted.

The problem comes at an awkward time for Prime Minister Bill English, who is in the midst of campaigning for national elections that take place on Saturday.

“We are taking the issue very seriously,” English said. “We don’t want travelers to be inconvenienced in this way.”

He said he had told lawmakers not to make any unnecessary trips and that all public employees were given the same message. “It shouldn’t be too difficult. You’re looking here about a period of a week at most. They can do meetings by video. They can also help accommodate the public by putting off travel that they may have been committed to.”

The restrictions aren’t likely to affect the election campaign much, as most candidates are campaigning in their local districts. English pointed out he was traveling to Auckland later this week in his campaign bus.

Opposition leader Jacinda Ardern, who is hoping to oust English in the election, said the government was warned years ago about relying too much on the pipeline. “We were obviously vulnerable. Work should have been done to make sure that we were more resilient than this,” Ardern said.

“One pipeline and one digger and New Zealand grinds to a halt.”

Pipeline owners Refining New Zealand said the pipeline was struck by a digger or other machinery and should be repaired by Tuesday.

Airlines have been restricted to using 30 percent of their normal jet fuel allowance at Auckland Airport. The carriers have managed to continue a majority of their scheduled flights, in some cases by refueling elsewhere.

Air New Zealand said yesterday it was taking the unusual step of restricting ticket sales, including stopping all sales on some international flights.

The carrier said it planned to cancel eight international flights today, including five to Australia, two to Fiji, and one to Vietnam. The company said about 3,000 customers would be affected today, bringing the total number of affected customers to 6,000.

New Zealand’s military has been mobilized to help to ease the shortage by using a naval tanker and military truck drivers to deliver supplies.

The ruptured pipeline also carries diesel and gasoline, although the shortage has been most acutely felt by the airlines. Some Auckland gas stations have run out of premium gasoline.

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