The jet fuel shortage is upon us

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File

If you’ve found yourself waiting a very long time at the airport while attempting to fly out of town, there are a number of reasons for that. Most of the airlines remain severely understaffed due to a lack of planning and foresight. It’s also possible that your flight was delayed because someone decided to punch out a flight attendant after being ordered to wear a mask. But now you can add one more issue to the list, particularly at airports in the western part of the country. Even if everything else is going smoothly, most of the airlines are running into a shortage of jet fuel, leading to delays while they wait to get enough juice in the tanks to get off the ground. But the reason for the shortage isn’t being caused by a lack of production at the refineries. It turns out to be yet another byproduct of the pandemic that we’ve dealt with here before. (Associated Press)

A shortage of jet fuel, coupled with supply chain issues and an urgent demand from firefighting aircraft, continues to cause problems at airports around the West.

In Nevada, state and federal lawmakers said they are investigating a possible shortage of jet fuel that could delay cargo delivery and passenger travel at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in the coming days.

A spike in demand for jet fuel both by commercial airlines and from firefighting aircraft in Montana and the Pacific Northwest led to departure problems and daylong flight delays recently at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.

It’s true that all of the firefighting planes making runs to northern California and Oregon are sucking up a lot of fuel, and those flights clearly have to be prioritized. But that’s just another avenue of demand that’s straining a supply chain that was already coming up short. The reason for this is the same phenomenon we previously discussed here that’s causing gas shortages for motorists in a number of areas.

It’s not a matter of the refineries running short of crude oil or not producing enough jet fuel. They’re still keeping up with demand nicely and our domestic rig count has increased every week for the entire year so far. The problem is that they don’t have enough certified tanker truck drivers to bring the fuel from the depots to the airports. So a lot of the tankers are sitting around with full loads, lacking a driver to make the delivery.

When the pandemic struck last year, nearly all non-essential travel ground to a halt. That applied to both vehicular travel and air traffic. Fewer flights and fewer miles driven means far less fuel is ordered and consumed. Many of the truck drivers with CDLs and the required special permits to handle volatile fuels were suddenly idled, so a lot of them sought out other types of driving assignments. Once they found a new line of delivery work, there was little incentive to return to driving tankers.

Simultaneously, the schools that normally provide driver training for CDLs canceled their classes because of a lack of demand. That started last summer and continued through the winter. Those classes only really started to kick back into gear (pun intended) this spring and they can only handle so many aspiring big rig drivers in each class. The gap is projected to close by some time in the fall, but for the moment they simply don’t have enough qualified people to make all of the deliveries.

If you happen to be someone without a college degree who is still facing employment issues as we come out of the pandemic, this might be a golden opportunity for you. (Assuming you have a reasonably clean driving record.) You can finish one of those CDL schools in as little as four or five weeks and the test required to be certified to transport fuel is reportedly not all that hard to pass. Trucking companies are paying some seriously good wages this year and it’s probably a good time to get your foot in the door.