London Heathrow’s fuel supply woes are showing no signs of an early abatement, and US carriers are complaining they are being discriminated against with fuel rationing.

Heathrow’s fuel has been rationed since mid-December, as a result of the destruction of the Buncefield oil depot that supplies around 30% of the 20 million litres (5.3 million US gallons) of kerosene that the airport requires daily. Airport operator BAA’s rationing prioritises the Heathrow-based long-haul carriers such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

“The situation has not alleviated yet, but the fuel companies are working flat out to find ways to bring fuel to Heathrow,” an aviation fuel industry source told Flight International. “Unless the airlines adhere to the constraints, Heathrow will run out of fuel.”

The source says that the situation is unlikely to ease in the near term, but is optimistic that solutions will be in place before the peak summer season. A railway line with the capacity to supply 1.5 million litres of the 6 million litre daily deficit has been reinstated, but is unable to run at daily frequency yet because of network capacity issues, the source adds.

A study into the feasibility of reinstating supply to Heathrow through Buncefield was held up until last week because access to the site was restricted as it was a crime scene. Other options being studied include the construction of additional fuel storage tanks near Heathrow, and supply by river barges or road tankers. However, with road tankers typically having a capacity of around 38,000 litres, a huge fleet would need to be found to cover the airport’s daily deficit.

Meanwhile, American Airlines and United Airlines claim that the fuel rationing is costing them up to $20,000 a day because of the increased fuel burn resulting from tankering extra kerosene from the USA, and have accused BAA of being “blatantly discriminatory”. They claim that while UK operators are able to secure 82% of their long-haul fuel requirements at Heathrow, other airlines – including the US majors – are only provided with 70%.

United says that every three gallons of extra fuel tankered into Heathrow costs about one gallon in extra fuel burn. It puts its daily cost of this tankering at $15,000 while American claims its expenditure is even higher at $20,000.

Although both carriers accept the need for temporary fuel rationing, they insist that the BAA policy violates the US-UK air services agreement. Despite the fact that Heathrow-based carriers have a greater fuel allowance, they are also having to tanker from overseas into Heathrow and are suffering penalties.

In a submission to the US Department of Transportation, the US carriers are urging the regulator to defer handling of certain UK route applications until the rationing issue is addressed.


Source: Flight International