Airlines brace for fuel shortages

- Sangam Prasain, Kathmandu

Sep 27, 2015-

After the Turkish Airlines crash in March and subsequent April 25 earthquake, which affected the aviation sector severely, airlines are bracing for another potential turbulence: Shortage of aviation turbine fuel (ATF).

Amid a cut in ATF supplies by Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), an emergency meeting was called on Friday under the coordination of Supply Ministry Secretary Naindra Prasad Upadhaya to discuss alternatives to prevent the looming crisis.

Due to an unofficial trade embargo imposed by India, government officials predict the fuel problem could get worse. “Airlines have not faced the shortage of fuel as of now, but it may not be too far if the situation remains the same,” said Suresh Acharya, joint-secretary at the Tourism Ministry.

The IOC on Friday refused to dispatch petroleum products from its depots to Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC). It has been restricting the supplies to Nepal since Tuesday, citing various reasons such as mechanical failure at its depots and traffic congestion due to the ongoing strikes in Tarai.

According to Acharya, Friday’s meeting decided not to use the ATF currently stocked by the NOC. The current stock could meet the demand for at least seven days. Daily usages of ATF by domestic and international carriers stand at 50,000 litres and 116,666 litres, respectively.

After the discussion, the government has requested international carriers to refuel in smaller quantities at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). And, domestic airlines have been asked to refuel at the airports in Tarai.

For cross-border international flights or short-haul sector like India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China, the government has requested the airlines to fill their fuel tanks to maximum capacity in their respective origin, so that they don’t need to refuel at TIA. “Airlines flying less than two-hour distance have been urged to carry return fuel or cut refuelling at TIA by 50 percent,” Acharya said.

For the long-haul sector, particularly the Gulf carriers, the government has requested them to refuel 15-20 percent less fuel at TIA.

Most of the international airlines have started to reduce refuelling at the Kathmandu airport. On Saturday, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal Director General Sanjiv Gautam held a meeting with international airlines executives on the issue.

“Inbound airlines flying wide-body aircraft from the long-haul sector will not be affected much as they have the capacity to carry return fuel. But for narrow-body aircraft, it will not be possible as they have full passenger and cargo load due to the festive season in Nepal,” said Bharat Kumar Shrestha, chairman of Airlines Operators’ Committee-Nepal.

Shrestha said most of the airlines have started reducing refuelling at TIA. For example, Oman Air used to uplift 15 tonnes fuel from TIA, and after the government’s request, it has reduced the amount to 10 tonnes. Likewise, Turkish Airlines that normally used to refuel 35 tonnes from the TIA has reduced the amount to 25 tonnes.

“This is a temporary measure as less consumption can enable NOC to stock fuel for an additional 4-5 days,” he said. “However, if more effort is not put into resolving the issues, it could have serious impact on the operation of the aviation industry,” Shrestha said.

The government has also sketch-out other alternatives. Acharya said as flights are normally told to hold in the skies for a long time due to traffic congestion, burning extra fuel, such holding pattern will be reduced.

Besides, the government has also floated ideas of importing fuel by Nepal Airlines jets. However, the the NAC told Friday’s meeting that its aircraft were not in a condition to transport fuel.

The government has also decided to request China to export ATF.

“If jet fuels become scarce, we have also discussed alternatives to import it from China by using Galaxy, a large military transport aircraft that can transport up to 30,000 litres fuel,” Acharya said.

“The fuel can also be ferried by jumbo jets like the Boeing 747 from China.”

Published: 27-09-2015 08:48

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