File image - Flights from OR Tambo International have been told to go on a fuel diet or divert elsewhere for refuelling for the next 10 days due to contamination discovered at the airports jet fuel supply. Pic: John Woodroof

Johannesburg -  Flights from OR Tambo International have been told to go on a fuel diet or divert elsewhere for refuelling for the next 10 days due to contamination discovered at the airport’s jet fuel supply.

The Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), the airlines and fuel suppliers met yesterday to discuss fuel supply challenges at the airport as a result of contaminated fuel from the National Petroleum Refiners of South Africa (Natref) refinery.

The Saturday Star learnt yesterday that precautionary measures were taken to isolate the fuel after concerns that a pollutant emanating from the supply chain to the terminals was present in the jet fuel.

It is understood that an unidentified oily substance clogged some of the filters in the pipes at the OR Tambo supply chain raising fears of a potential disaster.

Acsa asked airlines to source their own fuel from other suppliers, so as “not to put pressure” on the reserves and the airport fuel consortium told airlines to “uplift 20 percent less fuel than they would normally go with”.

Glenda Zvenyika, the managing member of the OR Tambo International Airport fuel consortium, said all 700 million litres of contaminated fuel had been isolated and contingency measures were in place.

“We are now getting fuel from Durban-Joburg pipeline via rail,” she said. “The second thing we have is that we have asked all airlines to uplift 20 percent less fuel than they would normally go with and we are fairly confident there won’t be any stock running out.”

She said it would take 10-14 days to clear the contaminated fuel because it was being sent back to the refinery by road.

Yesterday, Sasol spokeswoman Jacqui O’Sullivan said an investigation into the cause of the contamination was under way to determine how the contamination happened.

“Sasol has engaged alternate service providers to activate short-term supply support pending the resumption of normal pumping activities at Natref,” she said. “Transnet Freight Rail has made additional capacity available from the coast.”

O’Sullivan said Natref fuel storage and supply was “being flushed” and it was anticipated that the facility would be cleared to resume normal pumping operations of jet fuel to the airport in the course of this weekend.

The fuel is normally piped to OR Tambo airport through a dedicated pipeline from Natref in Sasolburg. Although there were two other options for having fuel delivered to the airport from rail tankers and through a multi-product pipeline, Acsa spokesman Solomon Makgale said the fuel needed over 24 hours to settle before it could be used.

The airport received seven million litres of contaminated fuel through the dedicated pipeline from Natref, the primary source of Jet A1.

On average the airport receives about 4.5 million litres of fuel a day, Makgale said.

“The contaminated fuel in the two tanks has been isolated and cannot be used,” he added. “The airport has certified fuel in the other tanks that is being used for refuelling.”

Makgale added that the airport had fuel for 1.4 days and the fuel supply industry, led by Air BP, was working tirelessly to address the situation.

No flights have been affected at this stage and Acsa airports remained fully operational.

South African Airways (SAA) said yesterday that the airline was assessing the possible effect the contamination might have on their flights.

“We would like to indicate that so far the incident has not impacted negatively as per normal schedules,” SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said. “We are monitoring the situation and should the need arise, SAA will activate the contingency plans aimed at avoiding, if not reducing, the impact on the disruptions the incident could have on its operations.”

Comair, which operates British Airways and, said it was also not experiencing any disruptions but that the situation was being monitored closely.

“Comair is currently tinkering fuel at its own cost from the out-station to minimise the uplift at OR Tambo for its British Airways and brands,” the company said.

Saturday Star