Tourism companies are already fielding calls from worried travellers after 27 flights were cancelled yesterday due to the "embarrassing" fuel crisis gripping Auckland Airport.

The oil pipeline from Marsden Point burst on Thursday after it had been previously damaged by a digger trying to extract kauri logs near Ruakaka.

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Flight cancellations drop as airlines deal with fuel shortages

The Government has offered to help oil companies struggling with an aviation fuel crisis that threatens to disrupt air travel out of Auckland for up to two weeks.

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New Zealand Refinery staff at the site of a jet fuel pipeline leak on farm land between State Highway 1 and Marsden Pt Rd. Photo / John Stone
New Zealand Refinery staff at the site of a jet fuel pipeline leak on farm land between State Highway 1 and Marsden Pt Rd. Photo / John Stone

All flights coming into Auckland have been advised to carry enough extra fuel to get out again. Long-haul flights are being redirected to refuelling stops at other NZ or international airports as oil companies predict it could take 10 to 14 days to restore normal supplies.

Brent Thomas, House of Travel's commercial director said staff were already handling calls from worried clients.

"It's an unusual situation - I've never seen anything like it in my time in the industry,'' said Thomas who has been in travel for the past 20 years.

"We have got the school holidays in two weeks time, hopefully it's fixed by then.''

He said travel insurance would typically cover a ''reasonable'' cost of disruption from an event such as the fuel problem but every case was different.

Last night the mood ranged from bemused to angry as passengers at Auckland Airport got varying degrees of help from their airlines. Some passengers faced unplanned stop-offs to refuel at Sydney or Christchurch, the delay meaning they were likely to miss connecting flights elsewhere.

Others would have to wait days to catch their next flight, with no accommodation or transport help and only a voucher for the airport food court to show for their troubles.

Most passengers had to find out through news reports about the fuel leak. No one had had a clear explanation of what had gone wrong or who was at fault, and it seemed some airline staff did not know either.

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

Auckland Airport Chief Executive Adrian Littlewood said the airport was working closely with airlines and other airport stakeholders to monitor the impact of the disruption.

"We will have additional staff in the terminals supporting passengers and addressing any questions or concerns they may have. We strongly recommend that any passengers travelling over the coming days plan ahead and check with their airline for the latest information."

Refining NZ spokesman Greg McNeill said it would take days to repair the damage.

"We need to do the repair, test that repair is good, and bring it up very slowly to design pressure," he said.

"We are still assessing the full extent of the damage. We have excavated around the pipeline to look at it, then it's what is the method of repair we have to use, and put that in place. We are still in that phase."

First Gas, which has the contract to maintain the pipeline, is working with the Refining Company on the repair. Two engineers from Worley Parsons will arrive from Canada today to help.

National leader Bill English has instructed ministers to "offer all assistance that the Government can" to restore aviation fuel supplies.

English told the Newstalb ZB Leader's Breakfast with Mike Hosking he was disturbed by the burst pipeline, but was confident that the situation would be rectified as soon as possible.

English said Air NZ had told him they were doing absolutely everything they could to accommodate passengers disrupted.

He said the cost of installing a second pipeline would have had to be passed onto consumers so had not been put in. It was the first time there had been a disruption to the supply.

He said another option was to increase storage at the airport so there were greater reserves.

Any further flight cancellations could have an impact on the last week of election campaigning.

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

English, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and other party leaders have hectic schedules including daily flights in the next five days.

"Advice so far is that there is not likely to be significant disruption to domestic flights," a spokesman for English said.

"If the PM is booked on a flight that is disrupted, alternative arrangements will have to be made for him just as they would for any another traveller."

Aviation commentator Peter Clark called the situation "an embarrassment". He believed oil companies needed to have a better contingency plan as another leak could occur in the future.

"It's going to cost the country a lot and it's going to cost airlines a lot.

"We need aviation fuel, it's critical, it's our lifeblood for New Zealand. We rely on tourism and Auckland is our hub for this.

"There needs to be better planning for our future and probably more storage in Auckland for aviation fuel so they can supply the Auckland airport... we need to move forward and sort this out very quickly."

The body representing tourist operators, Tourism Industry Aotearoa said the fuel problem was a "very unfortunate situation'' but doesn't believe the country's international reputation will be damaged.

Chief executive Chris Roberts said airlines would face more costs from aircraft having to carry more fuel and being diverted to other airports to refuel, but their focus is on minimising any inconvenience to travellers.

Airways, which runs air traffic control services is not expecting a big impact on its operation.

"We may see scheduling changes and potentially the traffic peaks throughout the day may be at different times and at different aerodromes. But we're a 24/7 operation and have sufficient capacity in the rosters to provide full service,'' said a spokeswoman.

Z Energy spokesman Jonathan Hill said they were desperately keen to know how long the "significant disruption" would last for. Z is one of the three petrol companies that supply jet fuel to airlines at Auckland Airport and which have all been affected by the leak.

Hill said the airline industry had come up with an arrangement that meant each airline was allowed 30 per cent of what they normally take. Many were making alternative arrangements such as bringing in enough fuel so they don't need to refuel in Auckland or making a fuel stop in another airport.

Mobil Oil NZ manager Andrew McNaught said extra aviation fuel would be brought in to Auckland Airport by road tanker from Marsden Point.

Shortage throws shadow on travellers' plans

Benjamin and Ana Sila

Ana Sila, left, and Benjamin Sila heading to Apia, Samoa. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Ana Sila, left, and Benjamin Sila heading to Apia, Samoa. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Benjamin and Ana Sila were angry last night over their treatment by Virgin. Ana flew up from Dunedin for a quick meet-up with husband Benjamin, who was on his way from a conference in Thailand back to Samoa.

The one-day stopover in Auckland has now turned into three days as the next flight to Apia isn't till Tuesday.

Ana was fuming last night and critical of Virgin's communication policies. She spent hours trying in vain to rebook Benjamin's flight after staff manning the Virgin phones knew nothing about the fuel shortage and no one at Auckland would do it for her.

The couple had been offered only a $16 food court voucher as compensation, Ana said. "They said if you can't find a booking and he gets hungry tomorrow, he can come back and get another $16 voucher," she said.

"We asked for accommodation, we asked for a transport allowance ... We were told they were just following Virgin Australia policies."

They have a 4-year-old daughter living back in Apia with relatives; he said he just wanted to get home to see her. "I'm bloody disappointed."

Wayne Morgan, Tony McKechnie

Wayne Morgan, left, and Tony McKechnie from Australia. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Wayne Morgan, left, and Tony McKechnie from Australia. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Wayne Morgan and Tony McKechnie are visiting for a business trip, but nearly missed half of it.

McKechnie got a text just before 10pm on Saturday to say their 7.10am Qantas flight from Sydney to Auckland was cancelled. The company initially offered several late-night flights, which he refused before finally they were offered an earlier LatAm flight.

Their flight attendant wondered aloud why her flight was packed full - nobody had told the staff about the fuel-related cancellations.

"It worked out all right but the company was very quiet about it," McKechnie said. "Qantas are normally good at telling you what's going on."

"We were hoping for a nice afternoon at the Viaduct - we wanted to relax and enjoy Auckland," Morgan said. Instead they were stuck at the airport pub. No one has apologised to them.

They hope to return to Sydney on Wednesday, and Morgan has a tight deadline - he's meant to be catching a cruise for his wedding anniversary. He said his wife "will kill me" if he did not make it.

Ian Cui and Iris Li

Iris Li and Ian Cui. Disruption to air travel out of Auckland International Airport after a digger cut the oil pipeline from Marsden Point near Ruakaka. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Iris Li and Ian Cui. Disruption to air travel out of Auckland International Airport after a digger cut the oil pipeline from Marsden Point near Ruakaka. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Aucklanders Ian Cui and Iris Li are off to Beijing for a holiday in China and Thailand. Their Air China flight had to go through Sydney to fuel up because it can't refuel in Auckland - adding three hours to their flight so they'll miss their link to Shenyang, putting a key part of their trip at risk.

"The tickets are already bought and the motels are already paid so I don't know what we can do," Cui said.

"I asked if they could book us a new flight but they said they can't do it."

It's high season in China because everyone's on holiday, so Cui is worried he won't be able to book any new flights when he gets to Beijing.

They will be back in three weeks - and they're hoping the fuel shortage will have been solved by then.

"When we checked in they gave us a paper and ... they said there was a fuel line problem," Cui said. "At first I thought they were making it up."

They were offered no vouchers or other compensation, Cui said - and Li said they "didn't even say sorry".

Silia Tevao

Silia Tevao's flight to Fiji has been delayed by eight hours.

She and her three children have been at the airport since four this morning.

Silia says the flight was due to leave at 7am, then 11am, and now the departure time has been put back until 1pm.

She says it's a ridiculous situation, and the mood amongst other passengers is turning from frustration to anger.

AIR NEW ZEALAND FLIGHT CANCELLATIONS

These cancellations were accurate as of 10pm. Check Auckland Airport's website for up-to-date flight information.

• NZ722 Melbourne to Auckland Monday 18 September

• NZ543 Auckland to Christchurch Monday 18 September

• NZ550 Christchurch to Auckland Monday 18 September

• NZ413 Auckland to Wellington Monday 18 September

• NZ420 Wellington to Auckland Monday 18 September

• NZ437 Auckland to Wellington Monday 18 September

• NZ444 Wellington to Auckland Monday 18 September

• NZ718 Sydney to Auckland Tuesday 19 September

• NZ719 Auckland to Sydney Tuesday 19 September

• NZ411 Auckland to Wellington Tuesday 19 September

• NZ418 Wellington to Auckland Tuesday 19 September

• NZ429 Auckland to Wellington Tuesday 19 September

• NZ428 Wellington to Auckland Tuesday 19 September

• NZ538 Christchurch to Auckland Tuesday 19 September

•NZ543 Auckland to Christchurch Tuesday 19 September

•NZ555 Auckland to Christchurch Tuesday 19 September

•NZ566 Christchurch to Auckland Tuesday 19 September