Airlines are used to dealing with the unexpected.

But a fuel pipeline rupture in a Northland swamp where a digger was working would have been way down the list of the contingencies they prepare for.

Uncertainty has been thrown around the travel plans of tens of thousands as yet another failure has exposed the vulnerability of part of the country's infrastructure.

The damaged pipeline carrying aviation fuel from Marsden Point to Auckland Airport joins the list including; an overheated underground cable which plunged Auckland into darkness in 1998, a D-shackle which failed causing a major power outage in the north of the country in 2006 and a broken gas line in Taranaki which caused economic disruption just after the All Blacks had won the World Cup in 2011.

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The full impact of the aviation fuel pipeline failure will become clear this week. Information trickled out in response to media inquiries following what was a developing into a big problem on Thursday and Friday.

Right now airlines are concentrating rearranging flight schedules which is going to mean disruption for many passengers, particularly those who have connections overseas or tours to join and possibly exporters. Airlines could be forced to make trade-offs between how many people they carry and how much freight they ship.

A phone conference between airline bosses this afternoon was very much about how they all could work their way through this problem rather than recriminations.

Damage seen to a fuel pipeline running from the Marsden Point refinery near Whangarei. Photo / Supplied
Damage seen to a fuel pipeline running from the Marsden Point refinery near Whangarei. Photo / Supplied

The bigger questions will come later. Why was there a digger near the pipeline? Is it time for a backup fuel line? Is there enough fuel storage nearer New Zealand's major gateway through which 18 million passengers a year pass? Who pays to fortify infrastructure?

Just as every passengers' circumstances are unique, the same goes for airlines. Those with greater fleet flexibility will be able to put on larger aircraft to effectively tanker fuel into Auckland.

Those flying from further afield could be forced to put down at airports in Australia or the Pacific Islands, frustrating for passengers and costly for airlines, particularly those operating on very tight margins.

A Kauri log dug up near the site of the fuel pipeline running from the Marsden Point refinery. Photo / Supplied
A Kauri log dug up near the site of the fuel pipeline running from the Marsden Point refinery. Photo / Supplied

Considerable effort goes in to attracting airlines and they deserve better.It's cold comfort for those on the dozens of flights that have already been cancelled and those unsettled about future flights but the timing could have been worse.

The school holidays are still two weeks off and the main big influx of overseas visitors comes in summer. A tourism group says the country's international image will not be tarnished, but it doesn't help.