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Jet Fuel Shortage Is A Headache For Air Travelers And Firefighters

A small white and red plane flies low over a wildfire consuming brush and dry grass in a field. BLM trucks and firefighters are also around the perimeter of the fire. On firefighter is in the lower righthand corner of the image with a yellow shirt and white hardhat.
Nick Pieper
Bureau of Land Management
A single-engine tanker makes a water drop on a wildfire in central Washington as firefighters from numerous agencies watch and fight the blaze, Aug. 9, 2018.

News Brief

The U.S. is facing a jet fuel shortage this summer. It’s causing long delays at airports across the West as well as some concern among aerial firefighters.

“The whole aviation community is pitching in and working together to try to alleviate this problem,” said Kevin Condit, a spokesperson for Neptune Aviation Services in Montana.

Helicopters, small planes and massive airtankers are often used to help contain wildfires in the West. Condit said some aircraft are being diverted to other airports because of the shortage. Earlier this month, helicopters were temporarily diverted from battling a wildfire in central Idaho due to a lack of jet fuel.

The problem stems from a lack of tanker truck drivers as well as increased demand from airlines. It’s particularly acute at smaller, more out-of-the-way airports in the West. The production of jet fuel is still below pre-pandemic levels, according to the U.S. Energy Administration.

This lack of adequate fuel levels caused day-long delays at an airport in Montana a week ago. On Saturday, top political leaders in Nevada warned that both passenger and cargo delivery aircraft could also be delayed at Reno’s airport.

“Our immediate focus is on ensuring resources to combat western wildfires are not impacted and that there is as little disruption as possible for Nevadans and visitors who depend on reliable air service,” Gov. Steve Sisolak, Rep. Mark Amodei and Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen said in a joint statement.

The shortage hasn’t significantly impacted wildland fire operations so far, according to the U.S. Forest Service. However, the agency has identified alternate airports and airtanker bases that could be used in case fuel supplies run out. Earlier this month, helicopters were temporarily diverted from battling a wildfire in central Idaho due to a lack of jet fuel.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Nate Hegyi is a roving regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at Nevada Public Radio. You can reach him at natehegyi@protonmail.com.

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