The US airline industry has experienced a strong rebound indomestic travel this summer, and TSA’s passenger screening numbers illustratethis fact. In the last month, there have been many days of 2-plus million air travelers screened at TSA airport security checkpoints, including on August 1st,a day in which more than 2.23 million passengers passed through airport security.
Overall, this is good news for an airline industry that washit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and in the months leading up to the2021 summer travel season. But not everything about the rebound in air travel has been an unalloyed success, as it turns out. Here’s why:
Jet Fuel Shortages
According to news reports, several airports out West havebumped up against a shortage of jet fuel due to the increased demand among allairlines for domestic travel, especially to leisure or vacation destinations. The end result of such shortages in the kind of jet fuel commercial airliners use (called “Jet A”) is that some flights, particularly when they originate in certain western states, could end up cancelled at various times. In some cases, your once previously nonstop flight could also end up making a stop at an intermediate destination to pick up the fuel needed to get to your ultimate destination, or your flight could leave your departure airport with extra fuel in case there isn’t enough at your destination.
Truck Driver Shortages
One of the reasons for why scattered jet fuel shortages arenow being seen at some airports is that there is also a current shortage of truckdrivers who deliver the fuel to airport fuel storage facilities (known as "fuel farms” in the business). At present, about 20% of fuel tankers nationwide have been idled because there simply aren’t enough licensed and qualified drivers to haul them. Hauling fuel and other flammables requires special Department of Transportation certifications, and many drivers prefer hauling less potentially volatile loads. Gas stations in some states are also reporting occasional shortages of automobile and diesel fuel.
Fuel Pipeline Shifts
Another reason airports and airlines are experiencing jetfuel shortages has to do with how fuel is transported via a series of pipelineslocated throughout the country. When air travel nearly ground to a halt for many months, the major pipeline operators shifted away from transporting jet fuel, and now those pipelines are carrying more gasoline, diesel, and other petroleum-based fuels rather than Jet A. There’s not enough pipeline space for jet fuel at present, in other words. Airlines are calling for more coordination between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, pipeline operators, and the airlines to quickly find a fix for the lack of pipeline availability for jet fuels in the weeks and months ahead.
Popular Vacation Destinations
Jet fuel shortages seem to be arising most often in a numberof western airports that serve popular vacation destinations in the westernregion of the country. Certain airports in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada have all reported difficulties with fuel delivery at various times during the summer. Montana, for example, has seen a 25% increase in flights into and out of the state above pre-pandemic levels, meaning travel there has greatly increased, with a commensurate rise in jet fuel requirements also to be expected. Reno, Nevada’s airport is currently warning that it may experience intermittent fuel shortages for the next several weeks as well. Lastly, wildfires in some western states have also meant that the jet planes sometimes employed to help fight them have gotten priority for fuel resources so that they can help fight those fires.