Fuelling the aviation industry

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In the refuelling business, time can mean literally money, reports Ian McInnes. Getting an aircraft turned around quickly, efficiently and back in the air where it is earning revenue is paramount for both airlines and airports. The right equipment deployed at the right time, coupled with the development of long-term strategies ironed out between service providers and their clients, can pay dividends

Diversity of offering

Just one of the many companies active in the aircraft refuelling business is Cavotec, a global engineering group with a substantial presence in the aviation fuelling business that includes Cavotec Dabico UK, Cavotec Dabico USA and Cavotec Inet.

Cavotec has 40 years’ experience in the sector, offering a wide range of fuel delivery systems that include aviation loading arms, full-system design and integration, high-point and low-point pit assemblies, fuel hydrants, vault access pit covers and fuel isolation valve pit assemblies.

Its aviation fuelling arms are hose-free pantographs that do not need dispensers and tanker trucks and can be integrated into existing equipment; they fully comply with major suppliers’ components and safety regimes. Furthermore, says Cavotec, the systems are compatible with both military and commercial aircraft, and facilitate fuselage and under wing refuelling operations, while some of its pantograph systems can be easily managed by just one individual.

In September 2012, its offering was boosted with the acquisition of the Swedish ground support equipment manufacturer, Combibox. And, going forward, the company is looking to take a whole system approach along the supply chain, “We find that many of our customers increasingly prefer to develop long-term strategies where we deliver comprehensive system design, supply and system integration,” declares Cavotec’s ma   naging director, Gary Matthews.

Noted in the company’s interim report is the fact that its airports section contributed over 23 per cent more revenue in 2012 than a year earlier and a contract that Cavotec won from the new Sohar airport in the Sultanate of Oman. Cavotec is delivering fuel hydrant pits, isolation valve pits, truck unloading skids and a fuel flow control valve instrumentation package. This, says the company, is the first airport in the region to have the complete portfolio of fuelling components and equipment from Cavotec.

ASIG provides global reach

ASIG and Signature Flight Support are both part of the global aviation support and service provider BBA Aviation. ASIG says that it is a ‘recognised industry leader in aviation refuelling services’. It adds that, since April 1986, it has operated the largest fuel consortium in the world, LAXFUEL, at Los Angeles International airport, which operates 24-7 and incorporates a total of 56 US and international carriers.

It maintains and operates major fuel facilities at 40 major airports, including London Gatwick, Munich, Honolulu, Chicago O’Hare, Denver, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Anchorage, Orlando and Nassau; in total, ASIG currently offers services across a network of 83 airports.

In terms of equipment and reflecting an increasing global trend in environmental stewardship, ASIG is currently investing in ‘green’ fleet initiatives such as solar, electric and hybrid vehicles, which it expects to reduce its impact on the environment as well as its operating costs.

ASIG is also investing in RFID (radio frequency identification) technology in its mobile GSE (ground support equipment) fuelling operations, which it is confident will increase the accuracy of fuel transmissions and therefore reduce the risk of mis-fuellings. Other initiatives under way include the introduction of the latest IT to improve accuracy, record keeping and thereby streamline the audit process.

The local perspective

Andrew Bruce operates Far North Aviation from Wick Airport in Caithness, Scotland, where he achieves turnover of around US$1.6 million per year for providing ground support services at the airport, including refuelling.

Bruce, who has been operating at Wick for 21 years, is however, less that complementary about modern refuelling equipment, in particular that he doesn’t want to have to be or employ a ‘systems analyst’, to operate something or to fix it if and when it goes wrong.

And, he makes a valid point that a piece of equipment can be and indeed should be efficient, rugged and not too frustrating for the owner/operator to be able to maintain and repair if it needs to be, onsite and in a hurry.

He confirms that he has had negative experiences of computerised equipment in the past, “When they (vehicles and systems) break, there’s a problem,” Bruce notes. “When something mechanical breaks it’s got a linkage. You can fix it.”

Needless to say, he adds that his refuelling equipment is of the older variety right now. However, Bruce points out that he is always looking to expand his business and he might perhaps just be persuaded to try newer equipment again if, additional air traffic control provision is implemented at the airport allows more flights – and if he considers the product to be right for him.

Founded in 1938, Germany-based FAUDI is a civil and military aviation fuel filtration specialist that also provides marine and industrial fuel filtration solutions. It cites that its ‘experience and unique production methods ensure highly efficient and cost effective solutions to a range of filtration and separation problems’, and that these are primary reasons for its success.

FAUDI is known for its ex-certified, AFGUARD (water in fuel) sensor, which the company says can be used in all areas, including hazardous, and represent the next generation in aviation fuel filtration and monitoring. Key features of the product include its dual channel scattered light turbidity sensor, a continuous monitoring of aviation fuel quality, and reduction of faulty areas in aviation fuel filtration. Moreover, FAUDI insists that the sensor is low-maintenance and is impressively durable.

The company also makes filter/water separators for stationary, mobile, vertical and horizontal applications, micro filter and filter vessels with a choice of element size, clay vessels, refuelling, transfer pumping and special units, pre-coat filter installations and sieve basket filters and the VFC-1 water in jet fuel filter/separator.

In 2011, FAUDI announced the launch of DPGUARD, a system designed to give out corrected differential pressure values for all types of filter used in aviation refuelling. The system is self-learning and is supplied as a touch screen micro-computer contained in a hard disk box for wall mounting.

The equipment can be used without the need to pre-configure it for special types of elements such as monitors, coalescers, micro-filters and clay. DPGUARD can detect increases or decreases in differential pressure across the filter, such as the type caused by filter rupture, and can automatically address digital output or relays to halt the refuelling process.

Plus, because it stores so much of the data relating to the differential pressure values and their status (ready, warning and alarm level), DPGUARD can also be used to remind the user of the possible need to change filter elements as they come to the end of their effective product life.

Long histories

UK-based FTi says that it is all about ‘the design, development and manufacture of aircraft refuelling vehicles, systems and equipment’. It has an extensive product range that includes bulk refuellers, diesel or electric dispensers, refuelling carts, marine, portable and static refuelling systems and pump sets. FTi also manufactures and markets associated components and offers equipment repair, refurbishment and onsite maintenance programmes. The company has 45 years of global standard vehicle building experience, caters to civil, military and marine markets.        

Liquip is a multi-division company that has 40 years’ experience in supplying to the bulk liquid handling and storage sectors. The company’s aviation division operates from Australia and the US, manufacturing a range of civil and military refuelling vehicles. The company also represents many respected companies for refuelling products such as hoses, filtration and meters.

In March 2012, Liquip announced the formation of a new business unit through the merging of Liquip International Pty Ltd and Fuelling Solutions Pty Ltd. The new unit, dubbed Liquip Fuelling Solutions, specialises in the full spectrum of fuel filtration and engineering solutions and, says Liquip, ‘is the exclusive distributor of the Velcon filter product offerings and holds the exclusive manufacturing rights for Velcon’s range of filter vessels’.

Another business active in the refuelling industry is a unit of IDEX Corp, Liquid Controls (LC), which traces its aviation roots back to the mid-1950s. Nowadays, the US-based company is a manufacturer of ‘high quality flow meters and accessories for accurate liquid measurement in both custody transfer and process control applications’.

Originally focusing on the military aircraft sector, LC now works across a wide variety of industries using a combination of in-house engineered designs working with an international network of strategic factory-authorised full service distributors to serve its client base.

The company says that its aviation fuelling meters are engineered with no metal-to-metal contact inside the measuring chamber, thus ensuring minimal wear and enhanced longevity. LC’s more recent product enhancements include electronic registration and data capture utilising an LectroCount LCR, with which users can capture and transmit transactional data and enhance safety by interlocking to valves to prevent overfills; other features allows the unit to measure and record in volume of pounds.

New York-based Hannay Reels has been making hose reels for aviation refuelling since 1933. The company works across many industries and for the aviation sector offers a range of universal reels to comply with worldwide specifications that, as an option, can also be manufactured from stainless steel which will not rust or corrode. Hannay’s aviation product offering includes a range of aviation refuelling hose reels, manual or power, single wrap or spring rewind to hold a variety of hoses from one inch in diameter up to four inches.

Leading the way in the US

Kansas, US-based Garsite, a subsidiary of Walker Stainless Equipment Company, Inc since June 2007, claims to be the largest manufacturer of aircraft refuelling products in North America. The company’s portfolio of products includes jet refuellers, Avgas refuellers, towable hydrant carts, truck-mounted hydrant dispensers and CSE refuellers; Garsite also designs and installs above-ground storage systems.

The company has been manufacturing equipment to serve the aviation refuelling market for over 50 years and cites many international clients such as Air BP aviation services, American Airlines, Chevron Texaco, ConocoPhillips, Shell Aviation and many more. In addition to the manufacturing and supply of new equipment, Garsite also offers a range of refurbished refuellers from truck bed-mounted units for hundreds of gallons to multi-thousand gallon jet fuel refuellers.

Garsite’s most recent product development concerns Insite, a programmable in-vehicle safety control system for aircraft refuellers, which the company revealed at the AS3 show in Orlando, Florida. “We have been developing and testing this system to provide our customers with the safest and most efficient refuellers ever built.

“The Insite system combines the best engineering and best technology with one goal to assist the operator in all aspects of managing the refueller in the safest and most efficient way,” says Steven Paul, Garsite’s president.

The company highlighted the system’s features at the show and observes that the system has self-diagnostics that ‘constantly monitors relevant refueller and chassis systems and reports the status on the information centre’. Furthermore, says the company, the Insite system improves safety and, alerts the operator when unsafe conditions exist. The safety trigger points and alerts can be customised to meet user requirements.

Future opportunities

Refuelling equipment is a specialist niche for specialist users that have often been in the business for decades and there will always be innovations through engineering and electronics that must go through the regulatory process to international regulations and thus make it to market.

There is no doubt that as technology opens up new possibilities, costs can be reduced and efficiencies enhanced yet further. However, technology particularly, computer and electronics can make uneasy bedfellows in an equipment environment like aviation refuelling; ruggedness and then some should always be a must.