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At Least Ten U.S. Airports Face Closure Due to Jet Fuel Shortages...

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  • At Least Ten U.S. Airports Face Closure Due to Jet Fuel Shortages...

    Shortage looms if jet-fuel disruption not fixed soon

    By Dan Reed, USA TODAY

    Major airports in the East and Southeast could run out of jet fuel as soon as next week if refinery and pipeline shutdowns aren't resolved soon.

    Shortages appear most severe at airports in Charlotte, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers, Fla. But two of the USA's busiest airports could also be affected — Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson and Washington Dulles.

    Industry consultant John Armbrust says the supply disruption could cause some airports to run out of fuel in a week or two. John Heimlich, chief economist at the airline trade group Air Transport Association, says two weeks is more realistic.

    "By then, we'd better have this problem rectified or we'll have a serious problem," Heimlich says.

    After Hurricane Katrina, ATA and the USA's big airlines are scrambling to head off possible grounding of some planes or service reductions at affected airports.

    For now, Heimlich says, the strategy is for planes to carry more fuel than would be normally needed to avoid drawing down fuel supplies at Charlotte, Tampa, Orlando, Fort Myers and several other cities. Overfilling, called "tankering," is adding to airlines' costs because they're burning more fuel to carry the extra weight.

    The problem of short supply comes on top of the airlines' longer-term problem with fuel: price. Gulf Coast jet fuel fell to $2.27 a gallon Wednesday, down 3 cents from Tuesday. But the price is up 20% from where it opened this week and far higher than the financially struggling industry can handle.

    Armbrust says the jet-fuel distribution system was pushed to its limits before Katrina. The storm knocked out refineries that produce 13% of the jet fuel consumed in the USA.

    Also, the hurricane has knocked out several Mississippi and Alabama pumping stations along two of the USA's biggest and most critical fuel pipelines, running from the gulf region to New Jersey and Virginia.

    Most Florida airports get their fuel from ocean tankers, so they're not dependent on the pipelines. But Armbrust says several scheduled shipments to Florida could be affected by Gulf Coast refinery shutdowns.

    Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson and Charlotte Douglas airports say they have a week's supply on hand and shouldn't face a problem if the pipelines begin flowing again.

    At Washington Dulles airport, "We're not immediately threatened, but we're keeping a close eye on it," spokeswoman Courtney Prebich says.

    When gulf region refining resumes, says Ben Brockwell of tracker Oil Price Information Service, the airlines could still have problems as refiners tilt toward production of gasoline. Not only does gasoline sell for more than jet fuel, "Most of the nation runs on gasoline, so the demand for it is a lot higher."

    Contributing: Barbara DeLollis, Roger Yu