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Pipeline outage forces American Airlines to add stops to some long-haul flights

Holding tanks are seen at Colonial Pipeline’s Charlotte Airport Delivery Facility in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. an undated photograph.

Colonial Pipeline | via Reuters

The cyberattack that forced the shutdown of the country’s largest refined fuel-products pipeline over the weekend has sparked some routing changes for American Airlines as it seeks to conserve fuel at its second-busiest hub.

Colonial Pipeline Co., which operates the more than 5,500-mile pipeline from Houston, Texas to Linden, New Jersey, said it has a goal of restoring operational service by the end of the week, but said the process would be gradual. The pipeline directly services seven airports, according to the company.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest for Delta Air Lines, said it is looking at other suppliers of fuel but that operations haven’t been affected.

“Hartsfield-Jackson and its airline partners are in close communications with fuel suppliers and are taking steps to mitigate any impact the Colonial incident might have,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “Currently, ATL is coordinating with additional suppliers to augment the airport’s fuel inventory.”

Delta declined to comment on the pipeline outage.

American Airlines said in a statement that the effect of the outage on its operation has so far been minor. It will add stops for two long-haul flights out of Charlotte Douglas Airport, the carrier said Monday. A nonstop to Honolulu will stop at Dallas-Fort Worth International where fuel supplies haven’t been disrupted. Customers will change planes there to a Boeing 777-300 to continue on to Hawaii.

A Charlotte-London flight will stop in Boston for additional fuel. The changes are effective until at least May 14.

American is also weighing options including flying planes with more fuel than needed on certain routes to avoid or limit refueling at certain affected airports, a measure known as fuel tankering, according to a person familiar with the matter. Having fuel trucked in is another option.

United Airlines said that it is working with airports “to understand the impact and our operations are not impacted at this time.”

Analysts have said the impact on supplies of jet fuel and other refined products like gasoline depends on how long the outage lasts, particularly as Memorial Day weekend approaches.

“We can draw inventory for probably a week and that’s when the problem would then become acute,” said Rick Joswick, global head of oil analytics at S&P Global Platts. “Hopefully this is resolved by then.”

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