By Tracy Withers, Bloomberg News
Airlines are canceling flights in New Zealand and adding stops for long-haul services after a pipeline bringing jet fuel to Auckland airport was closed due to a leak.
Air New Zealand estimated 2,000 customers a day will be affected by the disruption over the next few days as it works to minimize fuel usage. It has canceled 17 flights Monday and Tuesday, according to a statement. Other airlines are also being forced to ration fuel.
The disruption comes just days before New Zealanders vote in a Sept. 23 general election that polls show is too close to call. The leak was found in a 170-kilometer pipeline connecting New Zealand's only oil refinery north of Auckland with a terminal near the city's airport.
Refining NZ said the damaged section needs to be replaced. Initial estimates are that about 70,000 liters of jet fuel were lost and it will take 10 to 15 days to reopen the pipeline.
"We've recovered all the fuel, so at least we're not talking about an environmental issue today," Refining NZ Chief Executive Sjoerd Post told Radio New Zealand Monday. "We are absolutely sorry to New Zealand and to Auckland that this is happening."
Refining NZ provisionally estimated the outage will cost as much as NZ$15 million (US$11 million) in revenue from reduced pipeline income and reduced operation of parts of the refinery.
Z Energy, the nation'largest fuel company, said it is managing available supplies. The impact of the pipeline outage on fuel supplies would depend on how quickly it could be fixed, it said.
Air New Zealand said it needs to take all prudent steps to conserve jet fuel supplies at Auckland Airport. As well as canceling flights the next two days, it added refueling stops in Fiji for three flights to the U.S. that departed over the weekend.