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Jet fuel in Japan airports could last only ten days

21 March 2011

Airlines flying to the country urged to carry sufficient supply for at least part of return journey as procedures are put in place in event of low reserves

Tokyo: Japan's airports could run out of jet fuel in ten days without emergency measures to eke out supplies after vital infrastructure was damaged in last week's earthquake, the International Air Transport Association said. Airlines flying to Japan are being encouraged to carry enough fuel for at least part of the return journey, and IATA has briefed carriers on rationing procedures that would apply if reserves fall to critical levels, the industry body said yesterday. Key fuel facilities were damaged by the March 11 quake, curbing production, IATA said in a statement, without giving details.

Japan produces almost 4 per cent of the world's kerosene, some of which it exports to Asia, and the disruption to supply may lead to higher prices in the region, it said.
"Aircraft usually carry enough fuel to get to their destination and then fill up again, but that's no longer an option and airlines are now flying with extra fuel so they can reduce their uptake in Japan," IATA spokesman Tony Concil said. Planes operating inter-continental flights are able to bring in less surplus fuel to Japan because of the distances flown, whereas short-haul carriers may be able to carry enough for the return journey, Concil said.

Some aircraft on short-haul flights are even voluntarily leaving excess fuel in Japan to top up supplies, a process known as "tankering," IATA said. Stopovers imposed by airlines unwilling to have crews on their Japanese flights spend the night in Tokyo have helped the situation, he said, as planes are able to fuel up in cities such as Seoul, Beijing and Hong Kong.

An industry blueprint is already in place for how fuel would be rationed, having been agreed after an explosion at Total SA's Buncefield oil-storage depot near London in 2005 reduced supplies to Heathrow airport, Europe's busiest. During the Buncefield incident, IATA brokered an agreement between Heathrow owner BAA Ltd and airlines, according to which all long-haul carriers were given the same access to fuel.

IATA CEO Giovanni Bisignani said in a statement that it's too early to estimate what long-term impact the crisis following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami will have on airlines.
The Japanese market accounts for 6.5 per cent of global air traffic and 10 per cent of sales, he said. "Japan is an important link in global air transport," Bisignani said.
"The fortunes of the industry will likely not improve until the effect of a reconstruction rebound is felt in the second half."

Japan's transport ministry said yesterday it may disclose radiation levels at Narita, the nation's busiest international airport, in English to combat rumours about the level of danger posed by damaged nuclear reactors north of Tokyo.

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