The fuel industry is scrambling for new ways of getting aviation fuel to Auckland while Refining NZ is defending the time it's taking to repair its damaged pipeline.
The refinery company said a jet fuel loading station at Marsden Point was now finished and ready to fill tankers as soon as they arrived but a representative for fuel companies said they still did not know whether they could use road tankers or a tank on Wynard Wharf in central Auckland for aviation gas.
Manager of Mobil and a spokesman representing the customers of Refining NZ, Andrew McNaught, said it could be two days before it was known whether most road tankers could be reconfigured to transport the fuel from Marsden Point to Auckland Airport.
A barge could also transport aviation fuel to Wynard Wharf and then transfer it to a tank being used for storing chemicals but experts were still assessing whether this was possible.
There are some dedicated jet fuel road tankers available but he did not know how many others would be available to transport the fuel. The average tanker could hold about 40,000 litres, about an eighth the fuel capacity of an Airbus A380.
While there have been questions about why an alternative transport plan could not be rolled out immediately in the wake of the pipeline failure, McNaught said the priority was managing the fuel shortage.
"I'm sure there will be some reviews of the current situation at the appropriate time but the focus here and now is maintaining ground fuel supply and minimising the impact from a jet perspective at the airport."
The pipeline carried all Auckland's aviation fuel to a depot near the airport until it ruptured last week leading to fuel rationing for airlines which have been forced to cancel and re-route flights.
McNaught said alternative transport arrangements were still a "work in progress" and the priority remained cutting demand to 30 per cent of usual from airlines at the airport through reduced flying or aircraft taking on fuel at other New Zealand airports or those in Australia or the Pacific.
The big oil companies, BP, Mobil and Z Energy, are the major shareholders in Refining NZ which today said it was sorry about the thousands of airline passengers affected.
"We express our regret. We are sorry that this has happened and we are working very hard to restore normal supply," a refinery spokesman said.
The company said however, it had reached a "watershed moment" with site preparation for repairs to the pipe.
"The positive news is that the engineering team is getting on with the repair of the pipe, having completed the first of four major welds on the pipe. We will be ready to install the first in-line plug this evening. Once this has been done we will start welding the second plug."
The company said it was possible aviation fuel could be flowing as early as midday Sunday but it could be as late as midday Tuesday next week.
Settling, recertification and transport to the airport for use would take another 30 hours.
The Refining NZ spokesman said the repairs were being done as quickly as possible, taking account of obligations for the safety of workers and the engineering and other technical requirements.
"We need to be absolutely sure we have a safe environment at the leak site before we can weld in the new section of pipe. We have all the available and appropriate resources devoted to this work, and the need for rapid progress is well understood," the spokesman said.
The Board of Airline Representatives (Barnz) has 28 members affected by the fuel crisis and will meet with fuel companies tomorrow about allocations of remaining fuel.
Industry figures show there are 8.9 million litres of jet fuel in tanks near Auckland Airport's terminals and there are 9.5 million litres in storage at the Wiri terminal. Yesterday airlines used about 1 million litres.
Barnz executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers said there had been progress on cutting demand at Auckland, partly through new scheduling measures implemented by Airways.
Back-up plans would be discussed when the current crisis was over.
"When this thing is resolved those are the kind of things that will be asked around resilience. We will have a voice around that and will be asking the questions and what the future state of the industry looks like."