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Oliver Meth

In recent weeks, South Africa has experienced severe fuel shortages in light of significant flooding and infrastructure damage to the region’s Johannesburg and Durban provinces.

Despite reassurances from authorities that the crisis is under control, many airlines serving O.R. Tambo International Airport have been forced into refuelling detours. 

Last week, South Africa said Johannesburg has sufficient fuel for flights after infrastructure damage from flooding in the KwaZulu-Natal province affected fuel transportation.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula claimed at the time that the fuel shortage at O.R. Tambo International (JNB) had been resolved. This reassurance was echoed by the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) on Sunday, which claimed that jet fuel supplies at the airport are stable.

However, Lufthansa Group believes there is no end in sight to the fuel shortage at Johannesburg Airport and will make changes to its network until the situation is resolved.

An SAA aircraft on the runway at the OR Tambo International Airport /Gallo Images/

Boris Ogursky, Lufthansa Group’s media spokesperson for Europe, Middle East and Africa, told Fin24, “Due to the continued fuel shortage at Johannesburg, Lufthansa and SWISS had to adapt to flexible operations in order to ensure our flights to and from Johannesburg. These measures are of course subject to short-notice changes, always depending on the availability of jet fuel.” 

SWISS will introduce a refuelling stop in Durban on its Zurich-Johannesburg route. At the same time, Lufthansa will fly an empty plane to Durban to refuel and then fly back again to Johannesburg to pick up passengers.

With regional rail networks damaged due to flooding, authorities and fuel companies have scrambled to find a solution. One solution involves transporting undelivered rail tanks to a facility in Sasolburg and piping it to O.R Tambo.

The airport has also arranged for a shipment of fuel to arrive by sea. ACSA said, “We are expecting a shipment of 10 million litres which will assist in stabilising ACSA’s fuel levels.”

The airport usually holds around seven days’ worth of fuel supplies, but its stock has dropped to three days’ worth in the last couple of weeks.

ACSA has advised airlines to make refuelling stops at other airports in South Africa to fill up their aircraft. Along with Lufthansa and SWISS’ recent changes, other international airlines are making detours to Durban or Windhoek to get their fuel. 

Emirates flights to Johannesburg have continued unaffected as its route already involves a stopover in Durban. Additionally, United Airlines cancelled Johannesburg flights over fuel shortages.

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Oliver Meth

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