Jet fuel squeeze spurs flight delays, cancellations

Airplanes in line on a runway

Issue highlights need for Line 5, other energy infrastructure

It’s not what travelers or airlines want—flight cancellations.

Not due to COVID-19, but because of a lack of a stable supply of jet fuel. Trucking in the U.S. can’t seem to keep up with demand, but pipelines can.

Flights across the U.S. are facing delays and cancellations related to challenges accessing jet fuel.

The situation is placing millions of travelers in limbo, hurting the recovering economy.

Fuel transportation constraints are triggering some airlines like American, Southwest and others to either carry extra fuel onboard, to know they can refuel when they land, or cancel flights to some locations due to uncertainty about the ability to refill.

On July 26, another major airline carrier cautioned its pilots to expect fuel delivery delays at many midsize airports. In Nevada, for instance, the Silver State is dealing with a shortage of jet fuel that affects the operation of cargo and passenger flights, threatening Nevada’s number one economy—tourism and gaming.

Pipelines keep energy and people moving

The situation underscores the importance of pipelines like Line 5 that carry light crude that’s turned into jet fuel and many, many other products people use daily.

Regionally, Line 5 carries more than 540,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids and light crude oil.  The oil goes to area refineries, where it’s converted into 6,000 everyday products, as well as the jet fuel that helps transport more than 14,000 people on approximately 1,100 flights per day at the Detroit Metro Airport alone.

“Line 5 safely and regularly supplies the product essential for manufacturing thousands of items, including the transportation and aviation fuel that keeps America moving,” said Joe Calcaterra, Enbridge’s supervisor for the Mackinaw PLM of the Great Lakes Escanaba region.

“The challenges airlines are facing emanate from accessibility to reliable sources of fuel and place directly in the spotlight how the absence of Line 5 would exacerbate the situation.”

Calcaterra also cites the importance of transportation fuel to the U.S. supply chain, the system that brings products to consumers.  “While not everyone flies or drives, they rely on planes and vehicles to deliver groceries, clothing, medicines, and hundreds of personal care products from toothpaste to shampoo to anti-perspirant.”

In addition to aviation fuel to the Detroit Metro Airport, Line 5 supplies fuel to mid-size and regional airports throughout the Great Lakes area, as well as to those in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, IN, Columbus, Ohio, and Pittsburgh.

Line 5 also transports the propane to more than half of Michigan, and meets the propane demands for 65 percent of residents and businesses in the Upper Peninsula.

Common-sense solutions: Keep Line 5 operating, while building the tunnel

“If the Whitmer Administration prevails in shutting down a critical piece of energy infrastructure, the ramifications will extend well beyond a disruption in aviation fuel,” said Rich Studley, President and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. 

“Everyone will experience the immediate and significant impacts from actions that purposely create fuel shortages atop current fuel challenges. As we head into the fall, more Michiganders will rely on propane to heat their homes and businesses. We need to keep Line 5 operating so that propane is affordable and accessible, while supporting the construction of the Great Lakes Tunnel.”

The State of Michigan and Enbridge remain in mediation in an effort to reach resolution regarding the operation of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.

Concurrently, Enbridge is proceeding with plans to construct the Great Lakes Tunnel Project, a long-term solution that will encase the pipeline in a tunnel below the lakebed. The tunnel, funded by Enbridge, would reduce a spill in the water to nearly zero. The tunnel also could include other utilities, like high-speed internet and 911 service for Michiganders.

“It’s a good solution that protects the water in the Great Lakes, keeps vital energy flowing and puts people back to work after the pandemic,” continued Calcaterra.

The Company estimates that building the tunnel will require hiring more than 200 construction workers, keeping them busy over a four-to-six-year period.  The well-paying jobs could help many laborers earn good salaries during construction, while building much-needed energy infrastructure.

“Let’s stop playing politics and start using some common sense and begin working together to benefit the people of Michigan,” said Studley. 

“Let’s build the Great Lakes Tunnel, while keeping Line 5 operating,” Studley emphasized.