Travel plans for thousands of air passengers were thrown into chaos today by an aviation fuel supply problem at a busy international airport.

Manchester airport said some airlines may not be able to refuel there, and that some might decide to cancel, divert or delay some flights from 6pm today into tomorrow morning.

The airport advised passengers travelling tonight and tomorrow morning to check with their airlines before going to the airport.

The airport's fuel supply comes from the Essar refinery near Ellesmere Port on Merseyside.

The airport uses around three million litres of aviation fuel per day. This is the equivalent of 79 road tankers which carry approximately 38,000 litres per vehicle.

The fuel supply comes from the refinery via a pipeline which is capable of pumping 250,000 litres an hour.

The fuel storage centre at Manchester Airport is operated by MASHCo - a joint venture between Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Q8.

The oil companies are contracted directly directly by airlines to supply aircraft fuel via MASHCo.

Manchester airport said: "Today the airline fuel supply companies operating at Manchester airport are experiencing temporary problems with their supply of aviation fuel from Essar refinery.

"While a stock of aviation fuel is stored on site, as a precaution, airlines have been advised to carry additional fuel wherever possible.

"Although this is a short term problem, until it is resolved, airlines might not be able to refuel aircraft at Manchester airport which is why contingency plans have been put in place."

The airport went on: "Experts from the fuel companies, the airport and airlines are working hard to resolve the issue and minimise any impact.

"While we do not expect this to cause widespread disruption, it is possible that some airlines may decide to cancel, divert or delay a small number of flights from 6pm today into tomorrow morning.

"We would advise all passengers travelling this evening and tomorrow morning to check their flight status with the airline before coming to the airport.

"We would like to apologise for any disruption that this may cause and assure our customers that everything possible is being done to return operations to normal."

Virgin Atlantic has two flights leaving from Manchester at about midday tomorrow - one to Las Vegas in Nevada, the other to Orlando, Florida.

A spokeswoman for the airline said: "We are not unduly concerned at the moment and are waiting to hear more news from Manchester.

"Our planes could have a 'pit stop' in Ireland to refuel there if necessary."

In a statement, MASHCo said: "Production-related issues at the Essar refinery, which provides the majority of aviation fuel used at Manchester airport, have resulted in an interruption in supplies to the site.

"MASHCo is monitoring the situation carefully and working hard to seek alternative sources of supply. This issue is likely to result in some disruption to fuel availability until supplies from Essar have returned to normal."