from Business Day (Johannesburg):
The jet fuel shortage at Johannesburg International Airport has begun to bite, with several flights being unexpectedly rerouted to other centres for refuelling.
The disruptions are, however, not expected to last longer than another two weeks.
In one sign that the pressure is easing, government has decided to release 70% of normal fuel exports to Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, instead of the 50% decreed earlier.
The risk of inconvenience to airline passengers was considerable, SA Petroleum Industries Association spokesman Colin McClelland said yesterday.
"But the good news is that we are trying our best and the problem will last for only a very limited period of time."
The Association of SA Travel Agents warned that normal overbooking policies and rescheduling of flights out of Johannesburg International Airport could result in passengers being taken off their flights.
A flight yesterday from Cape Town to So Paulo via Johannesburg was forced to return to Cape Town because of fuel shortages in Johannesburg. The detour added two hours of travelling time to the flight.
A crisis committee of representatives of the oil industry, the Airports Company of SA, air traffic navigation services, airlines and the Civil Aviation Authority has decreed that nonscheduled flights to Johannesburg may not refuel there at all. All airlines operating from Johannesburg are restricted to 70% of normal fuel requirements. McClelland, the spokesman for the committee, said these aircraft had to refuel at Durban, Cape Town or other regional centres where supplies were more plentiful.
The shortage, which has hit jet fuel and diesel supplies, is the result of a blaze at Sasol's Natref crude oil distillation unit on June 6, combined with the temporary shut-down of Engen's Durban plant for routine maintenance work to be carried out.
The disruption was being addressed by measures taken domestically to allow emergency services like hospitals and fire stations to continue operating normally, Gqulu said.
Oil companies are also pushing up production to maximum capacity, and yesterday the first of a series of additional imports of jet fuel and diesel was due to arrive at Durban harbour.
A tanker, hurriedly rerouted to Durban, was due to unload 5000 tons of jet fuel and 35000 tons of diesel, McClelland said.
Johannesburg International Airport's normal weekly requirement of jet fuel is 26-million litres. Sixty percent of its jet fuel supplies comes from the Natref refinery in Sasolburg.
International carriers such as Virgin, Lufthansa and British Airways were being advised to leave Europe with maximum fuel on board.
Virgin Atlantic Airways GM Mike Higgens said flights into Johannesburg would fly to Durban at significant cost to refuel. They would then fly back to Johannesburg to top up their tanks before returning to Britain.
Lufthansa would take on the maximum fuel in Germany.
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