The Airlines Association of South Africa (AASA) has warned that knock-on effects from the Transnet strike could exacerbate fuel supply issues and result in a nationwide jet fuel shortage. This devastating prospect could leave airlines grounded during the festive season.
“We are very concerned with the challenges faced amid the economically crippling strike by rail and harbour workers, including those that a jet fuel shortage would bring to our industry,” said AASA’s CEO Aaron Munetsi.
Munetsi noted that a fuel shortage would not only inconvenience travellers and clients that use airline services to transport goods, but it would cripple the tourism and aviation sector – especially considering that South Africa is going into its peak summer tourism season.
Workers in Transnet’s majority union, the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Untu), signed a three-year wage agreement with the state-owned group on Monday evening – however, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) said that it would continue to strike, asking for a higher wage increase than what was offered.
Transnet said its immediate goal is to clear any backlogs across the port and rail system – prioritising urgent and time-sensitive cargo, implementing recovery plans and working with industry and customers. Analysts have noted that while the apparent end of the strike is a positive thing, it will take weeks to clear the backlogs – keeping industries under pressure.
Satawu’s stance has also cast doubt on Transnet’s ability to bring the strike to a full close and have all workers return to their posts. Untu represents 25,000 of the 40,000 Transnet workforce.
“If the strike is prolonged, aviation will not be spared, as it will jeopardise fuel supplies to our main airports at a time when airlines and our industry partners can least afford further disruption,” he said. “It would literally ground us [airlines].”
Munetsi said that airline stakeholders are already in the process of finding an alternative route for its fuel supplies to avoid this prospect.
Even if fuel supplies are rationed, Munetsi then said this would likely lead to a sharp increase in ticket prices which would still have a notable impact on the industry.
“Ticket prices have already increased so much year-to-date that we are finding that even the seasoned flyers are being dissuaded from travelling by air and are looking for alternative modes of transport,” he said.
Munetsi warned that the industry is on the brink of calamity and said there needs to be more forward planning by the government and the industry as a whole.
“We urge the government and the fuel suppliers to urgently apply themselves to establishing a more robust and resilient plan for such eventualities. We cannot afford for our travel and tourism industry’s recovery to be derailed through failures to plan and procure suitable provisions of jet fuel that insulate aviation from the impact of these disruptions,” he said.
Airports Company SA (ACSA) executive of operations management Terence Delomoney said that it is unacceptable that fuel suppliers should have exposed airlines and their customers through poor planning and inadequate fuel provisioning.
“We cannot express it more simply – we require far better planning and coordination. We call on the government and fuel suppliers to move with urgency and put in place a robust resilience plan to ensure sufficient stocks of aviation fuel are always available for airlines, especially as we approach the peak season.”
This would not be the year’s first jet fuel crunch. A recent shipment of jet fuel to Cape Town international airport was delayed due to bad weather. At the same time, damage to a railway line during floods in KwaZulu-Natal earlier this year impacted supplies to O R Tambo International in Johannesburg.