Wellington: New Zealand’s jet fuel shortage forced dozens flights to be cancelled on Tuesday, with concerns the fuel crisis may not be solved before Saturday’s national election.

The fuel shortage, caused by a damaged pipeline to Auckland Airport, has caused widespread disruption to air travel and shortage of high-octane fuel at petrol stations since the weekend and comes as infrastructure shapes up as a hotly contested election issue.

Prime Minister Bill English told MPs told to stay in their electorates due to the fuel crisis, as Air New Zealand on Tuesday took the extraordinary step of restricting ticket sales, including halting sales of some international services.

New Zealand’s military, which cancelled an exercise with Singapore to save fuel, was trucking fuel supplies around the country in an attempt to ease the shortage and government officials have been asked to avoid non-essential air travel.

Flights to and from Auckland have been stopped at airports in Australia and Pacific islands like Fiji to refuel.

New Zealand’s largest fuel supplier Z Energy said on Tuesday that fuel for some high-end cars was not available at 13 of its petrol stations in Auckland, according to a spokesman.

“While air travel will continue to be affected until the pipeline is fully operational, the fuel industry has advised government that impacts on petrol and diesel supply for motorists are minimal,” said Judith Collins, New Zealand’s Minister of Energy and Resources.

The government has come under criticism for what has been deemed an infrastructure failure as it faces a tight contest with the newly invigorated Labour Party.

The damaged pipeline is owned by New Zealand Refining and the company has told local media that initial investigations showed a digger had scraped the pipe.

“The fact that one digger can cause our international travel to be ground to a halt shows how vulnerable that infrastructure was and the National government ignored that,” Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

New Zealand’s air traffic control provider Airways said on its website it was implementing fuel conservation measures, which involve organising airplane landing and take-offs in such a way as to minimise the amount of time they spend in the air to save fuel. It expects up to 10 days disruption to passengers.

The New Zealand Refining spokesman said the pipeline was closed for repairs and was expected to return to 70 per cent capacity by September 24 to 26.

Extracted from SMH

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