It was announced last night that Manchester Airport had lost its fuel supply from the Essar refinery and passengers were advised to check with their airlines in case of delays and cancellations. The fuel supply has now been restored, and it appears that no major disruption occurred, but the incident is another highly visible reminder of the importance of supply chain continuity.
There is a range of ways of mitigating the risk of disruption to key supplies but broadly these can be grouped into: stockpiling reserves, multiple sourcing and ensuring that key suppliers are resilient. Clearly it is not sensible to stockpile huge volumes of aviation fuel at a working airport so this would not be an appropriate solution in this context. It is not clear why the airport had chosen to single-source from Essar but, if we assume that there are sound commercial or logistical reasons for doing so, that leaves Business Continuity planning at Essar as the only viable option to mitigate the risk of disruption.
Different companies have approached the issue of supplier continuity in different ways: many demand evidence of Business Continuity as part of the procurement process; whilst others actively work with their key suppliers to develop and exercise joint contingency plans for dealing with disruption. Whilst it is impossible to know which, if either, of these approaches Manchester Airport has adopted with Essar; the admission that “We came close to running out in April 2008, when we saw a similar issue with the supply but fortunately at the 11th hour the fuel was able to start moving again” suggests that there is still more work to be done.