Fuelling the future

posted on 28th June 2018

Without the right fuel, no aircraft is going anywhere. On-airport refuelling is a vital aspect of on-airport service provision and the domain of a number of specialists based around the world

Air BP has a huge international on-airport refuelling operation. The aviation services division of London-headquartered petroleum giant BP, Air BP offers aviation fuel and related products in more than 45 countries, and it is confident that it has an effective business model. “Our global footprint and supply chain puts us in a very good position,” observes Miguel Moreno, Air BP’s general manager of general aviation. “The market is changing but we adapt and we aim to stay ahead of the competition.”

Looking to remain in pole position, Air BP works closely with its airport partners to ensure that together they provide the best possible service to the end customer – the airlines and pilots filling their aircraft with fuel. “We are developing all areas of the business and working with airports to enhance the customer experience,” Moreno says, “using our global experience and working with our local partners.”

Within its all-encompassing strategy to be “an integral part of the general and business aviation industry”, Air BP is currently focusing on further improving its offering in three key areas. One – the OMEGA (Operational, Maintenance and Emergency response system for General Aviation) programme – defines operational, maintenance and emergency response standards to ensure that Air BP customers manage fuel optimally from the moment that it arrives at an airport: from its safe storage and quality testing to moving it around the gateway and filling aircraft tanks, as well maintaining equipment correctly and respondiing ap propriately to problems.

A second priority is working with airport authority partners to ensure that a message regarding the value of Air BP’s refuelling service provision is effectively conveyed to the end user, and a third is a recently released client loyalty product. Launched in the US in Las Vegas at October 2013’s American National Business Aviation event, it was also introduced to the UK at Biggin Hill toward the end of last year. The loyalty card is intended to “reflect Air BP’s commitment to improving the fuelling experience for its partners and clients”.

The market is evolving, and Air BP needs to change along with it, Moreno considers. In particular, customers are expecting the highest possible service quality at all airports, he notes. They want the minimum of complexity in their fuelling operations, for example; hence, Air BP’s offering of a self-service and payment Avgas fuelling option, launched at the UK’s Goodwood aerodrome in 2012.

Supporting Air BP’s commitment to prevent mis-fuelling – a critically important aspect of the fuelling process, Moreno says – the supplier’s self-service system asks the user to verify that they do indeed want Avgas before they begin fuelling. Customers are also looking for consistent reliability, sometimes enshrined in service level agreements (SLA). “The service element is becoming more and more important,” he highlights.

Finally, Moreno points to the major changes that are taking place in the aviation fuelling space and in which Air BP is playing a leading role. “We’ve always been very focused on the environmental issues,” he insists, “and we have only the highest standards on these and on safety.” As regards new developments such as unleaded Avgas, biofuels and other technologies designed to minimise the effect of jet flights on the environment: “We are very active on these in order to get the right solutions for the industry,” Moreno concludes.

Equipment and services

Without the right equipment, no amount of fuel is going to find its way into the thirsty tanks of a passenger or freighter aircraft. Cavotec is one of a number of suppliers of GSE and services in the aircraft fuelling segment. The company’s offering includes system design and integration, as well as equipment manufacturing and commissioning. Cavotec fuelling technologies include fuel hydrant pits, high and low point vent pits, vault access covers and prefabricated isolation valve chambers. It supplements its own manufacturing with equipment and components offered by partner companies such as Cla-Val.

According to Gary Matthews, managing director/market unit manager, aviation: “We consider ourselves as a market leader in apron fuelling, along with other GSE such as 400Hz and pre-conditioned air (PCA) systems. Our range of equipment and services are unrivalled in the industry but what really sets us apart from our competitors is our emphasis on working closely with customers and partner suppliers over the long term.”

One example of this approach that Matthews points to is a fuelling project at Kotoka International Airport in Ghana, West Africa, as part of which Cavotec provided design support, extensive hydrant equipment and installation supervision. “This is something few rival suppliers could undertake,” he argues.

But Cavotec believes that continuous innovation is vital. Along with its ongoing product improvement and, in particular, its new hydrant pit design, it has also expanded its offering as an equipment supplier to become a full systems integrator. “We now supply design support, integration and installation supervision – a turnkey solution that makes life so much easier for our customers, and reduces overall development costs,” Matthews argues.

Airports are increasingly looking for a ‘one-stop-shop’ when improving existing infrastructure and commissioning new-build projects and, with this in mind, he notes that Cavotec is not only continually developing its equipment and range of services, but also the ways in which it supplies them.

Cavotec Dabico – Cavotec’s specialist fuelling systems supplier – has some 50 years of aviation fuelling experience and Cavotec has applied this experience in order to become “the consultant’s consultant”, he says.

Flexibility of offering

Another of the big players in the manufacture of aircraft refuelling and related airport equipment is Bosserman Aviation Equipment (BAE), headquartered in Carey, Ohio, in the US. Its aircraft refuellers have capacities ranging from 1,800 to 70,000 litres, while its truck-mounted hydrant dispensers have a flow rate ranging from 1,135 to 4,000 litres per minute. It also offers towable hydrant carts and self-propelled hydrant carts, aircraft fuelling stairs, hydrant pit flushing and cleaning vehicles, single and dual-compartment gasoline and diesel delivery trucks, towable refuelling and defuelling bowsers, as well as above-ground storage systems, fuelling cabinets and fuelling skids.

Plus, BAE offers customised potable water trucks, non-potable water trucks, portable toilet servicing trucks and fuel transport trucks and trailers. In addition to supplying new equipment, its also refurbishes second-hand equipment and offers replacement parts.

While boasting a major presence in the Americas, Africa, Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, BAE has remained a family-owned business which – says president Terry L Bosserman – gives it the ability to adapt quickly to meet changing customer needs and remain highly competitive in its pricing.

Further growth remains on the agenda, however. “We have pushed toward a greater presence in South America and Africa, with new operations opening in 2014 for local, in-country product assembly,” Bosserman explains. “In-country assembly allows us to lower our cost to the customer, supply equipment in a more timely manner and provide much better after-sales support.”

Moreover, he goes on: “We are continuing to develop our line of eco-friendly electric chassis equipment, as well as promoting self-propelled and towable hydrant carts to our international customers.”

Of course, it is not all plain sailing, and challenges have to be overcome. The biggest issue faced of late has been the changes in emissions regulations around the world, Bosserman informs. In addition, US-made chassis with diesel particulate filters are designed to run on ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel only, which is not available in many countries, he says. Finally, US chassis also do not tend to operate well at the low speeds at which they are driven on-airport.

Meteoric change?

UK-headquartered FTi – Fluid Transfer International – is another of the suppliers of on-airport fuelling equipment that has continued to develop its offering. Managing director John Little points especially to the company’s Meteor vehicle chassis that is being refined in line with customer feedback, although – he stresses – the Meteor has always been very well received in the marketplace, as evidenced by recent orders in the Far East from Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Philippines and Thailand, as well as from Iceland in Europe.

Joining the many businesses showcasing new products at last year’s inter airport event in Munich, FTi launched FuelTronic II at the show in October. FuelTronic II is described by Little as a “next-generation refuelling control and monitoring management system for vehicles”. The new enhanced variant features high-definition graphics, individual interlock location map and status, and diagnostic tools, plus an interactive operations manual for the complete dispenser or refueller available on screen in the vehicle cab.

FTi’s popular hose pressure test pump module has also been repackaged into a smaller, more compact offering, whilst taking out cost to offer an even more competitive price. The new model was expected to be released in January 2014, as Airside International went to press.

With many national economies now beginning to show signs of sustainable growth, FTi is seeing an upturn in enquiries for electric powered chassis for hydrant dispensers. Coupled with other ‘engine off’ solutions, there has also been renewed interest in mitigating environmental impact through the reduction of engine emissions during the refuelling cycle.

“We continue to invest in our R&D and design teams to innovate the next new products, in order to ensure that refuelling is performed with the safest and easiest to operate equipment,” Little insists.

“We continue to look to open up new markets and regions across the globe.” Yet, he confirms: “At the last count, we had supplied FTi equipment to 76 countries across all continents, and – recognising that after-sales support is fundamental to our customers – we have significantly expanded our UK-based team in addition to our Singapore-based service technician support.”

ELAFLEX offers new fuelling technology

Supporting the fuel suppliers and the on-airport heavier equipment manufacturers are the innumerable companies – some of them small, some of them very large – involved in manufacturing some of the smaller GSE and components just as vital to on-airport refuelling.

Germany-based ELAFLEX, for instance, provides a wide range of nozzles, hoses, couplings and related equipment for the petroleum and LPG industries. Its latest offering in the aviation sector is the ZVF 50, a fuelling nozzle for over-wing and helicopter service. It is the successor of the well-proven ZVF 40, which has been on the market since 1979.

Like the ZVF 40, the ZVF 50 is suitable for Avgas and jet fuel and has a flow rate of up to 400 litres per minute. Also like the ZVF 40, it has a sensitive flow control that allows easy top-up, while also offering a quick spout change system, light lever action, easy and safe strainer inspection and surface protection by means of a completely new nozzle construction.

According to ELAFLEX’s co-owner and marketing manager Karsten Ehlers: “Engaging with our customers, we have stayed true to our philosophy of ergonomic design, easy handling, flexibility and safety.” He believes that the system represents “a significant improvement” on the technical standards given by the Joint Inspection Group (the JIG, the regulatory body for airport fuelling equipment that sets the standards and specifications for the sector).

Development of the ZVF 50 took more than two years and it is still being tested. Production is expected to start in the second quarter of this year.

“Feedback has been enthusiastic. We have pre-orders but we will not go into production with an almost-ready product; we must be sure that it is a satisfactory product right from the outset,” Ehlers declares.