Supply chain disruptions and demand from both commercial airlines and firefighting aircraft have combined to create a shortage of jet fuel for some airports around the western US. The result has been departure problems and flight delays reported at Bozeman, MT, Fresno, CA, and Reno, NV.
According to reports by CBS News, American Airlines has advised its pilots to adopt fuel saving strategies where they could, and warned that delivery delays at small and midsize airports in the West could continue through mid-August.
In a statement, Airlines for America, the aviation industry trade group, explained, “A lack of available pipeline space for jet fuel and a shortage of fuel trucks and drivers amid surging demand for air travel and cargo are contributing to low fuel inventories at some airports, primarily smaller ones in the western United States.”
The US Energy Information Agency reports that demand for jet fuel has risen 29 percent from the beginning of the year as of July 16, and is up 49 percent over the same period last year. According to the agency, both the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions has seen inventories drop from the beginning of July.
The sudden drop in air travel demand brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic forced jet fuel suppliers to reduce inventory being sent through the pipelines that serve airports. Pipelines also carry other petroleum products, such as gasoline, diesel and heating oil, and can’t quickly reallocated to meet sudden demand spikes in specific areas. Adding to the problems, some airports are also reporting a shortage of truck drivers and fuel trucks.
With widespread vaccination programs curbing COVID-19 concerns, travelers have returned to the air, producing a surge in air travel demand. Compounding the problem in recent weeks, more than 80 fires raging across 11 states have boosted the critical need to refuel firefighting aircraft in both Montana and the Pacific Northwest.
American says it is not experiencing any cancellations due to the fuel supply issues. “We are aware of fuel supply issues at some airports, predominately across the western US, affecting a number of carriers,” said the airline’s spokesperson Whitney Zastrow in a statement. “American is currently experiencing minimal operational impact due to fuel supply issues.”
However, CBS News reports that in its memo to pilots, the airline said that “jet fuel delivery delays initially affected mostly western U.S. cities, but are now being reported at American stations across the country.”