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Pilots asked to conserve as Western airports run low on jet fuel

Jet fuel shortage disrupts flights in Western U.S.
Jet fuel shortage disrupts flights in Western U.S. 00:17

Jet fuel is in high demand out West, where supply chain disruptions and demand from airlines and firefighting units are hitting both passenger flights and cargo. American Airlines even told its pilots to conserve fuel, warning them in a memo obtained by CBS News that delivery delays that started at small and midsize airports in the West could continue through mid-August.

"These challenges are not only impacting airports and airlines but also the efforts to fight the large forest fires on the West Coast," the memo states. "American Airlines station jet fuel delivery delays initially affected mostly western U.S. cities, but are now being reported at American stations across the country."

Nevada state and federal officials said in a statement Saturday that jet fuel shortages could delay cargo delivery and passenger travel at Reno-Tahoe International Airport — one of the state's busiest and close to popular tourism destinations — and their focus was to minimize disruption for passengers, and the delivery of goods and help ensure those fighting wildfires had the resources they need.

"To be clear, further failure to secure adequate fuel supplies is unacceptable," wrote Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, and Representative Mark Amodei.

More than 80 fires have forced thousands to evacuate across 11 states in recent weeks, including Oregon's Bootleg Fire and California's Dixie Fire. Some of the fires are so large they have influenced the weather and spread smoke as far as Canada and the East Coast.

Delays at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport were a result of jet fuel demand in part from firefighting aircraft in both Montana and the Pacific Northwest, The Associated Press reported, and shortages because of a lack of tanker truck deliveries was behind flights disruptions at Fresno Yosemite International Airport in California.

Demand for fuel is up 29% from the beginning of the year as of July 16, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, and up 49% from the same week last year. The agency noted that inventory had dropped in both the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions from the beginning of July.

When air travel plummeted at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, jet fuel suppliers reduced the amount that they sent through the pipelines that serve individual airports where their customers fuel up — pipelines that also carry gasoline, diesel and heating oil — and can't easily ramp back up.

Trade group Airlines for America, which represents American, Delta, United, Southwest and other airlines, blamed a lack of pipeline space for jet fuel and a shortage of fuel trucks and drivers amid a surge in travelers and cargo.

"Carriers are taking proactive measures such as having aircraft take on extra fuel at non-impacted origin airports in order to supplement the fuel supply at impacted destination airports. We have been and continue to be in communication with federal authorities and pipeline operators to address this jet fuel capacity issue," said the association in a statement.

American Airlines pilots were advised to use any strategies they could to save on fuel, such as using a single engine to taxi, and warned that planned fuel stops could be necessary if the station was running low.

American confirmed in a statement to CBS News that  it was seeing jet fuel supply disruptions, but is trying to minimize any effects on passengers. No flights have been canceled because of jet fuel shortages.

"It's hard to predict how long the shortage will last," Stacey Sunday, a spokeswoman for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, told AP. "There's just nobody available to drive the trucks of fuel in here."

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