St. Maarten airport PJIA meets with fuel suppliers to discuss aviation fuel shortage

POSTED: 01/9/12 4:55 PM

Relief expected by month-end as Sol and Chevron address supply issues

St. Maarten – The Princess Juliana International Airport has announced it will begin relocating the fuel farm at the airport in the second quarter of this year as part of efforts to mitigate the effects fuel shortage and better secure PJIA’s operations in the future. One concrete accomplishment from moving the fuel farm (depot) will be additional ramp space that can be used to park aircraft.

The relocation was announced in a statement outlining the airport’s response to the fuel rationing brought on by a shortage of Jet A1 fuel. Sol has also requested permission to construct an additional storage tank that would double its storage capacity to a combined 25, 000 barrels.

“Storage is indeed a major factor in the current fuel shortage. Once approval is received, the construction of the new tank is expected to take some six months. This means, before this year ends, the situation at PJIA with regards to aviation fuel would have improved dramatically,” a release from the airport’s Managing Director Regina Labega stated.

The airport’s strategy is partially based on January 5 discussions with Sol and Chevron. Next to the relocation the airport is also planning to enter into Service Level Agreements with the suppliers, including the fuel suppliers, which include performance standards.

More immediate concerns

Discussions on how to ensure a stable supply of fuel was brought on by rationing at the beginning of the year. Sol expects that the shortage that prompted the rationing will end by the end of January. Assurances have also been provided by Sol Aviation Services Ltd.’s General Manager Andrew Niles that St. Maarten’s airport, which acts a feeder airport, is prioritized for fuel delivery as a means of supporting the airport’s hub function. Niles has also proposed that Sol switch to delivering Jet A specification fuel, which can be sourced more readily the Jet A1 fuel at other suppliers. The primary difference between Jet A specification and Jet A1 is the freezing point, but this will not affect clients.

Niles also used the recent meeting with airport management to explain that while last week’s shipment of Jet A1 came from Curacao, that country is not a reliable source. He also pointed out that buying the fuel from the United States would mean longer delivery times and that Venezuela, which was also being eyed, does not produce Jet A1 fuel.

Sol has also promised to expand its daily communiqués on fuel allotments for their aircrafts to include PJIA and St. Maarten handlers. The company is already sending the communiqués to the head offices of the various airlines.

“We are doing our best to manage the situation. We could only operate with what we have,” Niles said.

Hardest hit

The general aviation sector is the most hit by the current fuel shortage. Sol noted it is easier to manage commercial carriers as their schedules and requirements are fixed, whereas with general aviation this is not the case. However, the pending deliveries and recertification of the fuel should alleviate some of the restrictions and result in possible relaxation this week.

“The general aviation fuel situation is a bit more complicated as some use brokers for their fuel purchases. Additionally, unlike Commercial flights, we do not have a clear picture of the fuel requirements for general aviation, as they operate and require fuel on ‘as needed’ basis,” Niles admitted.

Despite that consideration Sol agreed after Thursday’s meeting to look into further “relaxing” the current restrictions, especially on general aviation. Commercial aviation has already been moved up from 50 percent to 75 percent. Nevertheless, the fuel rationing for general aviation may continue a little longer.

“The situation is really unfortunate, but it has our undivided attention. We are working with our stakeholders, to share strategies that would enable us to spot potential problems in time so that we can respond in an effective, dynamic and informed manner. The idea is to find permanent solutions for this issue,” PJIA Managing Director Regina Labega said.


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