The use of prefabricated aircraft fueling skids is very popular in the general aviation fueling industry and is gaining in popularity in the smaller commercial aviation markets. The ability to have a factory fabricated system that can be fully tested and commissioned prior to delivery to the site reduces the construction costs of field fabricated systems, the need for multiple equipment representatives to visit the site during start up, and provides for a package unit that can be relocated in the future.
If you are in the market for a new system, it is imperative that you do your homework up front or hire a professional engineer with aviation fueling experience to design or specify your system as it has been my experience that nearly 99 percent of the general aviation fueling systems either do not meet all required fire and electrical codes, do not take all available steps for fuel quality, or are simply not designed in accordance with appropriate practices, all of which can lead to unsafe conditions. How can this happen in today’s regulatory environment? The answer to this question can be found in the fact that designers, owners, and permitting authorities often have limited or no experience with aviation fueling facilities. The resulting poor design documents are then used to bid the work to contractors and equipment vendors who are forced to make assumptions and take cost cutting measures in order to remain competitive.
Over the years of performing site inspections, designing replacement systems, and as a personal user of self serve Avgas systems, I have come across a number of deficiencies in various systems. The following paragraphs highlight a few of the more prevalent examples.
Fire Codes and Electrical Codes
There are two national fire codes that address fuel storage; either of which may be adopted by the local municipality. These include the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Fire Code (IFC). There are subtle differences in the two codes; however, both reference NFPA 407, Aviation Fuel Systems. NFPA 407 defines aviation fuel as a petroleum fuel used in aircraft engines. Therefore, this code applies to both Jet-A and Avgas systems which are the two most common fuels dispensed from general aviation facilities.
NFPA 407 provides a majority of the guidance for general aviation fueling systems, whether bulk loading Jet-A or Avgas into refueler vehicles or a simple self service system that dispenses directly into aircraft. The National Electric Code (NEC) addresses the requirements for all electrical work in the hazardous areas around fueling facilities.
Unfortunately, system designers, fabricators, and permitting authorities frequently overlook or ignore portions of the code that could be critical to life safety. Examples of this situation include: