Pipeline outage forces airlines to consider other fuel supplies

Holding tanks can be seen in the Charlotte Airport Delivery Facility of Colonial Pipeline in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, an undated photo.

Colonial pipeline | via Reuters

The cyberattack that forced the shutdown of the largest refined fuel pipeline in the country over the weekend triggered some route changes for American Airlines as it aims to save fuel at its second largest hub.

Colonial Pipeline Co., which operates the 5,500-mile-long pipeline from Houston, Texas, to Linden, New Jersey, has a goal of resuming operations by the end of the week but said the process would be gradual. According to the company, the pipeline serves seven airports directly.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is the busiest for Delta Air Lines, said it is reviewing other fuel suppliers but operations are not affected.

“Hartsfield-Jackson and its airline partners are in close communication with fuel suppliers and are taking steps to mitigate the effects of the colonial incident,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “ATL is currently coordinating with other suppliers to increase the airport’s fuel inventory.”

Delta declined to comment on the pipeline failure.

American Airlines said in a statement that the impact of the outage on its operations has so far been minor. Stopovers will be added for two long-haul flights from Charlotte Douglas Airport, the airline announced on Monday. A non-stop trip to Honolulu will stop at Dallas-Fort Worth International, where the fuel supply has not been interrupted. Customers there will convert their aircraft to a Boeing 777-300 to fly on to Hawaii.

A flight from Charlotte to London will stop in Boston for extra fuel. The changes are effective at least until May 14th.

Southwest Airlines flies extra-fuel aircraft at airports such as Nashville International Airport “to supplement local supplies.” Airlines can load more fuel on planes than is normally needed to avoid or reduce the need to refuel on the ground when supplies are limited.

“We are pleased to announce that Southwest’s operations have no impact,” said a spokesman.

American is also considering moving or refueling fuel at airports affected by the shortage, according to someone familiar with the matter.

United Airlines said it is working with airports “to understand the impact and our operations are not currently affected”.

Analysts have said the impact on the supply of jet fuel and other refined products like gasoline will depend on how long the outage lasts, especially as Memorial Day weekend approaches.

“We could probably do inventory for a week and then the problem would become acute,” said Rick Joswick, global head of oil analysis at S&P Global Platts. “Hopefully this will be resolved by then.”

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