Another View

Another View

South Carolina operator tells how smaller airports and FBOs can justify a hydrant fueling system

By John Boyce, Contributing Editor

July 2000

Although by no means a crusader, Mike Shouse is issuing a clarion call to airports of similar size and private FBOs that the profitability, among other things, of fueling operations can be enhanced with the installation of a hydrant fueling system.

Anderson Regional Airport in Anderson, SC, handles "roughly 80,000 operations" a year of corporate jet, cargo, and private piston aircraft in the northwest corner of the state. Shouse, its director, is in the process of installing a jet and avgas hydrant fueling system at the airport, which is generally considered out of the price range of most smaller airports and private fixed base operators. Shouse doesn't think so.

The installation cost at Anderson is expected to be in the neighborhood of $120,000 — excluding the cost of relocating the three 12,000-gallon tank fuel farm closer to the proposed island fueling area. Initially, Shouse, who has previous experience with hydrant fueling at a smaller airport (Elizbethton, TN), thought that justifying jet fuel volume for a hydrant system would fall between 500,000 and 1 million gallons per year —his airport's current volume. However, upon consideration, he says he doesn't see any minimum limitation.

"Frankly," Shouse says, "there should be no bottom limitation. A 50,000-gallon a year operation can justify a small hydrant system and, in fact, in that situation, with so low a fuel volume, it would be a lot more cost-effective than it would be to operate a truck... A way to categorize it: You have your zero to 800,000 to 1 million gallon fueling operation — that's one style of hydrant system. Then you get into your very large hydrant, engineered designs at medium and large hubs where they're running hydrant systems for the airlines.

"I really don't believe you need a minimum number of gallons (for a small hydrant system). If you're starting out an FBO business and, say, you're one of two or three on the airfield and you want to ensure success financially, building your business with hydrant (fuel) may very well be the best route to go."

By a cost-benefit analysis, Shouse had no problem convincing the airport board of the fiscal benefit of the hydrant system. Tenants weren't quite so easy, although Shouse thinks they will come around.

He explains, "There is some perceived luxury having the trucks over the hydrant system. The last airport I came from, the hydrant system had been there for many, many years and was well received and not at all considered an inconvenience. I think it's a byproduct of change — it's human nature to accept change slowly.

"...I suspect that there will be some naysayers when they read of this concept. ...(but) if you're really trying to tweak your operation for profitability, you're going to be compelled to look at the hydrant system. It all depends on how profit-oriented you ultimately want to be."

With elimination of refuelers and the centralization of the fueling operation, Shouse projects significant cost savings in labor and equipment, and a commensurate increase in efficiency.

But eliminating fueling trucks goes far beyond simple maintenance and labor costs. "It's all about the actual cost of putting the hydrant system in versus the cost to purchase and maintain the trucks and the liability issues that go with trucks," he says.

"Everything you can do in an airport operation to minimize liabilities is good. One area of liability you can eliminate with the hydrant system is the moving of trucks in and around these aircraft.

"If the aircraft are properly greeted and signaled when they come in on the ramp and they're positioned correctly with a well-designed hydrant system, it's just as user friendly as any truck operation."

Anderson's hydrant system, which will be designed and overseen by Dow Technical Services in Summerton, SC, will be located close to the FBO terminal. The system will be capable of fueling four aircraft simultaneously.

"Everyone will be serviced in one fuel operations area," Shouse says. "There is one center point for which there are four reels that we work out to four different quadrants. Four (aircraft) can be fueled at one time. In actuality, depending on the size of the aircraft, we can position six to eight aircraft at any given time around that central point, in a circular fashion, and simply be able to go from one aircraft to the next."

Shouse favors and is working toward keeping jet fuel and avgas sales separate, but opted for avgas as part of the hydrant system largely to accommodate larger piston aircraft and to give smaller aircraft the choice. However, he does plan to install a self-service avgas island at some distance from the hydrant island and admits he could, depending on sales volume, at some point in the future have an avgas refueler.

"I haven't finished the experiment," Shouse says. "...Our airfield is high percentage jet sales, very little avgas. I want to believe that what little percent of total fuel sales is avgas, that the bulk of that percentage could be accommodated with self-serve, 24-hour pumps. I believe that once I've done that (self-service), a very small percentage of business would be left that wanted us to pump their fuel.

"Now that's the dynamics of this airfield; others may be different. If you have an airfield where the percentages between jet and avgas are more equal, that means that when you start talking about FBOs that are 300,000 gallons and up and 50 percent is avgas — well, the nature of avgas is much smaller gallons per sales. Sometimes it's hard to accommodate that much fueling, that many aircraft, in the hydrant concept. So the truck may, in fact, be the more efficient way to go. In this particular airfield, we're dealing with very high volume jet, very low avgas, and therefore, right now I believe I can probably do without the truck entirely."

Shouse moved the tank farm from a remote location to one in proximity to the hydrant island site, and thus saved money while limiting the disruption to airport operations during the installation. Shouse says having the farm close to the center island reduces costs of piping.

Anderson County's Fueling Initiative
Anderson County recently decided to become a proprietary privilege airport and provide key aeronautical services directly rather than through a private FBO.

In other words, Shouse will be the fuel vendor on the airport and leave such activities as aircraft maintenance, cargo handling, and flight instruction to the private FBO on the field. Shouse says that he and his airport commission plan to provide FBO services in a "very professional manner in every regard" while keeping a sharp eye on costs.

"It is interesting to note," Shouse says, "that this is not a private enterprise where maximizing profits should be paramount. In this instance, it is a county-run facility that is trying to take a very aggressive business look at every aspect of how we invest in the operation and the return on our dollar investment. That has motivated us to go with this hydrant design."