WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand's lawmakers and public employees were told Tuesday to cancel all nonessential flights to and from Auckland as a fuel shortage at the nation's largest airport continued to disrupt the travel plans of thousands of people.
The main pipeline that carries jet fuel to Auckland Airport ruptured last week. Since then, at least 70 domestic and international flights have been canceled, including 29 on Tuesday. Other flights have been delayed or rerouted.
The problem comes at an awkward time for Prime Minister Bill English, who is in the midst of campaigning for national elections which are being held on Saturday.
"We are taking the issue very seriously," English told reporters. "We don't want travelers to be inconvenienced in this way."
He said he'd told lawmakers from his conservative National Party not to make any unnecessary trips and that all public employees were given the same message.
"It shouldn't be too difficult," he said. "You're looking here about a period of a week at most. They can do meetings by video. They can also help accommodate the public by putting off travel that they may have been committed to."
The restrictions aren't likely to affect the election campaign much, as most candidates are campaigning in their local districts. The opposition Labour Party said its lawmakers wouldn't be making unnecessary trips to Auckland. English pointed out he was traveling to Auckland later this week in his campaign bus.
Opposition leader Jacinda Ardern, who is hoping to oust English in the election, said the government was warned years ago about relying too much on the pipeline.
"We were obviously vulnerable. Work should have been done to make sure that we were more resilient than this," Ardern told reporters. "One pipeline and one digger and New Zealand grinds to a halt."
Pipeline owners Refining New Zealand said the pipeline was struck by a digger or other machinery and should be repaired by next Tuesday.
Airlines have been restricted to using 30 percent of their normal jet fuel allowance at Auckland Airport. The carriers have managed to continue a majority of their scheduled flights, in some cases by refueling elsewhere.
Air New Zealand said Tuesday it was taking the unusual step of restricting ticket sales, including stopping all sales on some international flights.
The carrier said it planned to cancel eight international flights on Wednesday, including five to Australia, two to Fiji, and one to Vietnam. The company said about 3,000 customers would be affected Wednesday, bringing the total number of affected customers to 6,000.
New Zealand's military has been mobilized to help ease the shortage by using a naval tanker and military truck drivers to deliver supplies.
The ruptured pipeline also carries diesel and gasoline, although the shortage has been most acutely felt by the airlines. Some Auckland gas stations have run out of premium gasoline but still have stocks of regular gasoline, which is used by most drivers.