By Benjamin Cooper
SYDNEY (Reuters) - A damaged pipeline that resulted in a fuel shortage across New Zealand and grounded hundreds of flights will be restarted on Sunday after repairs were completed, officials said.
"This is a significant milestone," New Zealand Refining Co Ltd said in a statement on its website on Saturday. It said it expected to be delivering jet fuel to Auckland Airport between Monday and Wednesday.
Repairs were completed late on Friday.
More than 100 flights were canceled over the past three days and many more delayed, disrupting the plans of thousands of travelers.
The government called in the military to help truck in supplies of fuel just days before a general election.
Damage to the 170 km (105 miles) fuel line, which supplies almost all of the fuel for New Zealand's largest city, was believed to have been caused by a digger.
Refining NZ Chief Executive Sjoerd Post later told New Zealand media that full capacity would probably not return until early next year.
"We are in a start-up process ... so we're going carefully," Post told Fairfax Media. He said the pipeline would operate at 80 per cent capacity until further tests were carried out over the next few months.
The New Zealand government set up a commission to oversee the response to the crisis amid concerns raised by tourism industry officials about the impact on the international reputation of the South Pacific island nation.
Tourism has soared to record levels of more than 3.4 million visitors a year to New Zealand.
(Reporting by Benjamin Cooper; Editing by Jane Wardell and Paul Tait)