AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Monday, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport issued its second fuel shortage alert this year due to heightened travel volumes — both of which occurred this month, linked to the 2022 South by Southwest Conference & Festivals and this past weekend’s NASCAR and PGA tour events.
As part of the fuel alert, airlines were asked to fly into AUS with more fuel than typical, in an effort to make sure flights had enough for takeoff. The fuel issue alert followed a morning inundated with security lines out the door and rental cars snaked throughout the rental drop off zone, as thousands of passengers made their way through AUS.
Fuel supply levels link back to AUS’s limited storage capacity, officials said. On an average day, AUS has between two and three days’ worth of fuel on hand; by comparison, most U.S. airports retain a five-to-seven-day supply each day.
Low fuel alerts are issued by fuel facility operators when AUS dips below a two-day supply. What that signifies to airlines is to travel with extra fuel in store so they can efficiently take off from AUS.
“The fuel facility operator puts in daily fuel orders based on projected flights,” an AUS spokesperson said in an email. “Fuel supply levels can be impacted by supply chain issues and are exacerbated by the airport’s limited storage capacity to have adequate fuel levels.”
While it typically doesn’t impact passengers, low fuel alerts can cause some alterations for incoming flights.
“When we think about those fuel shortage alerts, there’s not necessarily an immediate impact to flights and customers. What can happen sometimes is that flights that are not able to fuel up with that extra fuel before taking off for Austin, they sometimes have to divert to another airport to fuel up before landing here,” Sam Haynes, the acting public information and marketing manager for AUS, said. “And so that can cause delays that can impact the passenger experience.”
And fuel demand is only projected to continue, as Austin’s air traffic volume soars to and beyond pre-pandemic levels. Since its opening in 1999, the airport’s top five busiest days all occurred within the past two-and-a-half years, with its second and fifth busiest recorded during the 2022 SXSW festival.
During its inaugural year open, AUS saw 11 million passengers pass through its facility. Currently, 2019 holds the record for most passengers in a year, at 17.3 million.
However, 2022 is projected to surpass that and beyond, with an estimated 20 million travelers expected to fly out of AUS this year, Haynes said.
With that forecasted increase comes an annual increase in fuel demand, estimated at an average uptick of 3% to 5% each year over the next decade.
“We have had a really, really strong demand for air travel pretty consistently since about last spring,” Haynes said. “Due to that really, just like, pent up demand for leisure travel, we’re starting to see business travelers come back. And so a new fuel storage facility is really critical and really needed for us to be able to just meet the demands and the needs of today.”
Currently, AUS has a planned airport jet fuel tank farm in the works to serve as an upcoming storage facility. Construction on Phase 1 of the project is expected to begin this spring and complete within two years, according to a January presentation.
Under Phase 1, AUS would add two additional bulk storage tanks to connect to the two existing tanks, which have been at the airport since 1999. Haynes said this added storage space would double the airport’s fuel storage capacity, which currently holds an average two-to-three-day supply each day.
“That would more than double the capacity that we currently have on site to store, and then later down the line, long-term plans call for developing out that new fuel facility with an additional two tanks,” she added.
However, a proposed April 7 Austin City Council resolution would consider identifying three alternative sites for the fuel facility.
As part of the proposal, the resolution addresses concerns regarding a lack of public input and potential environmental issues for area residents who could be impacted by the current planned location, south of the Barbara Jordan Terminal and north of Hwy. 183.
In a statement to KXAN Monday, AUS officials said it understands the historic impact policy decisions have had and concerns surrounding environmental injustices. Officials added the Department of Aviation will coordinate with Austin City Council following any decisions made on the fuel storage location April 7.
“Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) is the world’s gateway to Central Texas. Every bit of space of the on-airport property is critical for us to deliver a safe and reliable operation. The proposed new fuel facility is a vital component of the daily operations of our airport. It is a priority project that addresses the critical need for more fuel storage capacity to support our increased air service and strong demand for air travel.”
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport spokesperson