AMR Corp.’s American Airlines scrubbed 188 Miami flights today, almost a third of its daily schedule there, after a fire destroyed the main pumping system at the airport’s fuel farm.
The March 23 blaze at Miami International Airport forced American to use 10 tanker trucks to haul fuel to the tarmac, so refueling now takes as long as five hours on wide-body planes such as Boeing Co. 777s, said Andrea Huguely, an airline spokeswoman. The process usually takes 45 minutes, she said.
“We can’t utilize the underground system that would normally pump fuel into the planes,” Huguely said. Relying on the tankers is “like trying to fill up an aircraft with an eyedropper.”
Today’s cancellations added to 190 flights scrapped yesterday, and more delays and dropped flights are likely into next week, Huguely said in a telephone interview. Fort Worth, Texas-based American accounts for three-fourths of the airport’s traffic and has about 600 flights a day there.
Replacing the previous system of 14 pumps will take at least two months, an airport spokesman, Greg Chin, said by telephone.
Miami International has been using temporary pumps that aren’t as fast as the original system, and will install high-performance units by next week with output similar to the peak flow of the destroyed system, Chin said.
The airport has a three-day supply of fuel stored in six tanks holding 1 million gallons (3.79 million liters) each, and contracts its fuel services from New York-based Allied Aviation Services Inc., Chin said.
American is refueling planes at other airports when possible, and some flights are making stops at Orlando or Fort Lauderdale to take on fuel, Huguely said.
Passengers flying to, from or through Miami are being allowed to rebook flights without penalty, American said in a statement.
AMR fell 1 cent to $6.50 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have tumbled 17 percent this year.
Miami is the 12th-busiest airport in the U.S., with almost 36 million travelers last year, according to Airports Council International. American uses Miami as a gateway for its 29 daily flights to Mexico and the rest of Latin America, Huguely said.
Delta Air Lines Inc., the second-biggest carrier at Miami International, hasn’t had to cancel any flights because it is fueling planes at its hometown hub in Atlanta, said Anthony Black, a spokesman.
Atlanta was the top U.S. destination from Miami in 2010, with about 11 percent of passengers, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, followed by Chicago’s O’Hare airport, New York’s LaGuardia and Dallas-Fort Worth.