June 21, 2024

Critical fuel shortages for commercial flights at airports across Japan have led to difficulties in increasing the number of international flights and adding new routes, industry and government sources said Saturday.

A surge in demand for flights due to increasing inbound tourism has outpaced the supply capacity of petroleum refiners, with the issue further compounded by labor shortages in the distribution phase.

With the problem threatening to dampen efforts to revitalize regional economies through international tourism ahead of the peak summer holiday season, relevant government ministries are assessing the situation to consider countermeasures.

According to the Hiroshima prefectural government in western Japan, a foreign airline had to revise plans to increase Asia flights to and from Hiroshima airport due to insufficient fuel supply. Another airline is also encountering challenges securing fuel for summer and beyond, it said.

File photo taken in May 2024 shows New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido, northern Japan. (Kyodo)

New Chitose, Asahikawa, and Obihiro airports in Hokkaido have been similarly affected by fuel shortages as they planned to increase flights.

Meanwhile, the operator of Sendai airport in northeastern Japan said it has not been affected, but airlines have expressed concerns about fuel shortages.

The National Governors’ Association is considering requesting the central government take action as airports in parts of the Kansai, Shikoku, and Kyushu regions also face difficulties in increasing the number of flights, according to local government sources familiar with the matter.

In Japan, petroleum wholesalers contractually supply passenger aircraft with fuel refined from crude oil. They cannot suddenly increase production as they have been consolidating facilities in anticipation of a medium- to long-term decline in demand for petroleum products.

There is also the option of selling imported fuel as a temporary measure. But they face the risk of not being profitable that way.

“We are prioritizing the increased demand from existing customers and cannot adequately respond to (plans for) new international routes or sudden increases in flights,” a source at a petroleum refiner said.

There has also been a shortage of drivers and airport workers involved in the process of transporting fuel from refineries to airports and pumping it into the aircraft.

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