Deciding to install is a matter of cost/benefit; fuel management becomes easier; technology advances
BY John Boyce, Contributing Editor
There don't appear to be any rules, business or otherwise, to guide airport managers in deciding if their airports should install a fuel hydrant system. When all is said and done, it comes down to simple cost/benefit analysis.
"There is no rule of thumb," says Sara Smith, president of Madison Environmental, an aviation consulting firm based in Boxford, MA, of what determines if an airport needs a hydrant system. "Size is definitely one reason; you'll see hydrant systems at big airports and not at smaller ones. Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, for instance, couldn't run without a hydrant system. There are just too many gates and you couldn't have that many fuel trucks at an airport like that.
"Then there's the Hartford, Connecticut airport. It's a good size airport and they're spending a lot of money at that airport, but they have no plans to put in a hydrant system; everything is run by truck. They're comfortable with that. Then you look at Chicago Midway and they have a hydrant system and they're probably smaller than Hartford. It just depends; every airport is different. It comes down to cost/benefit analysis because they're very expensive to put in."
One thing seems clear about the installation of a hydrant system: The airport can be small or large, but it has to have a large volume of fuel flow to justify the installation.
"Most of the major airports do have hydrant systems," says Mario Larrea, vice president for fueling at URS Greiner Woodward Clyde, a major fueling systems design and construction firm.
"It depends on the amount of fuel that gets picked up at a particular airport. It's not so much the number of gates but rather the destination of the flights. If a flight originates in Miami and it stops in Palm Beach, Palm Beach probably wouldn't want a hydrant system because the aircraft wouldn't pick up fuel there. It depends on the amount of fuel that is uplifted and that depends on the range of the flights — the longer the flights, the more the possibility or need for a hydrant system.
"...There is a certain point where the number of gallons justifies the investment. Each airport has to look at how much real estate the fuel farm is going to take up, how much money it's going to take to build one versus how much money it will take to pay for itself. A hydrant system is a big investment, it requires a large quantity of fuel being dispensed to make it economically feasible."
Of course, as with any airport construction project, retrofitting a hydrant fueling system means disruption in airport operations. "It's not like you can do a little bit of work at night and let the aircraft come in the next day," Larrea says. "You're cutting the pavement, you have welding equipment, you have cranes, equipment, trucks, backfill material. Usually, you end up cutting two gates out of service at one time. It takes time."
SIMPLIFIED FUEL MANAGEMENT
A hydrant system does make fuel management easier: inventory control is facilitated, a leak detection system can be built in, and compliance with environmental regulations, overall, is simplified. Many airports have installed new or upgraded their fuel hydrant systems. Most notable is Boston's Logan International Airport (see sidebar), which wanted to ensure that its system was completely safe and in compliance with environmental regulations.
"The biggest difference between modern systems and the older systems," Larrea says, "is that the newer designs take more into consideration the environmental concerns, leak detection, corrosion control — more automation so that you have better inventory control in the tanks and the lines. You can detect a leak much quicker than before."