'Black Light Traffic' at Melbourne Airport

Thursday evening saw the culmination of several issues with Melbourne Airports fuel supply reach a critical level. The straw that broke the airports back fell when a shipment of 2 million litres of Jet Fuel was rejected due to issues with the quality of the product. 

This followed up weeks of disruptions to fuel supply from the four key refineries tasked with supplying the huge demand for Jet Fuel at Australia's second largest airport - These issues were in the process of being addressed at the time of the rejected fuel on Thursday evening. 

"Immediate and deep" fuel rationing commenced on Thursday night as the airport fuel supply status was changed to "black traffic light," forcing airlines into a spin to secure the fuel loads they needed for return sectors out of Melbourne. Some airlines such as Emirates experienced no issues however many did, with diversions to Brisbane, Perth and Sydney occurring through Thursday night, Friday and Saturday. 

Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Etihad Airways (as examples) advised their passengers leaving from Melbourne, that a stop would be required within Australia to ensure they could make it back to Hong Kong - Adding a further hour, to hour and a half to their flight. This is of course, a huge inconvenience to the people transiting onwards to another flight at their initial destination, but also a huge cost to the airlines themselves. 

Domestic airlines had to re-think their strategy for the Melbourne sectors, and opted to take full tanks with them, so that only minor top-ups were required prior to departing. However this of course increases the weight of a departing aircraft, fuel burn to get to altitude which naturally, increases the cost.

An article from 3 years ago paints an alarming picture of just how much it costs an airline to complete a single sector. And even when you take a percentage of the below, that equates to roughly an hour and a half delay - The figures are astonishing!

In 2014 - A standard Qantas A380 service from Sydney to Los Angeles came with the below financials. As the world changes so rapidly, the below is purely a guide at the time. 

  • $11,400 in food and drink
  • $12,600 in staff wages
  • $37,200 in airport taxes and navigational services
  • (If with full tanks) Almost $250,000 worth of fuel.

Granted, that the airline does not do this for a loss.. and if the aircraft was 78% full, they would still return a handsome profit of around $1.2 million for the single sector at the time. However, add an unscheduled fuel stop into this equation... And airlines must be a substantial drop in the profit margins. 

On Friday, a spokesperson from Melbourne Airport advised that "Melbourne Airport further calls on all fuel suppliers to exert every possible effort to meet their commitments to airlines flying from Melbourne Airport." "JUHI (Joint User Hydrant Installation Joint-Venture) management has confirmed that there is no problem with the fuel infrastructure at the airport and the facility is functioning normally."

Functioning normally, but 30% below capacity - Something the airport can ill-afford to happen again in the future.

Author: James Lusher