Self-Service Fuel: Airport Money-Maker

An in-depth look at the benefits of self-serve fueling systems for airports


Unlike most other capital equipment acquisitions at airports, self-service fuel stations are revenue generators, and as such are generally excluded from state and federal funding programs. Due to strong cash flow, self-service fuel stations are excellent candidates for private financing, allowing airports to acquire systems far sooner than through traditional bureaucratic channels.

For instance, at October 2011 interest rates, a 60-month loan for a $60,000 system results in payments of approximately $1,200 per month or $14,400 per year. With modest annual sales of 24,000 gallons of fuel at a net margin of 75 cents per gallon, loan payments will be covered. After five years, the loan is retired and the system is generating more profit.

Not included in these calculations is the greater volume of fuel that is sold since the system is available 24/7, and the savings incurred from lower personnel and fuel truck costs. U-Fuel has partnered with American Equipment Finance to offer customers highly attractive terms to lease or finance systems.

Station or Truck?

Despite the flexibility offered, fuel trucks can be expensive due to an array of safety equipment they must include. A new fuel truck with a small capacity tank will cost at least $50,000; larger trucks can cost upwards of $150,000.

According to U-Fuel’s president Michael Webb, who maintained a large fleet of fuel trucks at his former FBO, Oshkosh Aero, “Maintenance and personnel costs of fuel trucks can be very substantial. For instance, cold weather can cause the vacuum interlock systems to freeze up, or even a small speck of dirt will clog up the overfill protection.

“I used to have nine ramp trucks for the EAA AirVenture show, and one mechanic dedicated to keeping them running.”

Self-Service and Jet Fuel

GA has seen the growing popularity of light turboprop- and turbofan-powered aircraft. With the inevitable demise of leaded avgas looming, many current high-performance piston engine aircraft operators will switch to turbines; this is already the case for those who fly in developing countries where autogas and Jet-A are the only two aviation fuels available.

While self-service fueling of turbine aircraft poses no major challenges for self service fuel stations, there are a few important differences compared to autogas or avgas, which increase costs somewhat:

  • The weight of turbine aircraft often requires tow tugs for ground handling.
  • Jet aircraft are normally parked 90 degrees to the pump allowing for straight departure.
  • Greater wingspans require longer hoses (75 feet - 100 feet) to reach tip tanks on the far wing.
  • Larger aircraft fuel tanks require a larger pump with a higher flow rate — 50 gpm instead of 22 gpm for autogas/avgas.
  • Self-service systems equipped with Single Point Fueling require interchangeable nozzles.
  • Jet fuel requires that the inner tank of a fuel station should be made of stainless steel or be epoxy coated for microbial protection, while the outer tank is made of carbon steel.

The Future Is Now

U-Fuel has been working the past few years to lower the cost of self service fuel stations and provide a broader spectrum of products with tank capacities beginning as small as 1,000 gallons.

In order to further reduce the installation and operational costs as well as allow complete portability, we have recently developed wireless communication, solar- and wind-powered options, allowing customers to place or reposition the system anywhere on the airport. Evolving from “boxstations”, created for remote mining and oil/gas exploration, the “FBO in a Box” concept provides basic services including fuel, restroom and office facilities, phone, Internet, and vending in a climate-controlled enclosure.

Summary

Borrowing from commodity production of fuel equipment in other markets, U-Fuel has lowered the cost of acquisition of such systems while making numerous advances to safety, reliability, and convenience. With the “FBO in a Box” concept, the company now offers a solution to airports seeking ways to offer services to pilots without incurring high personnel and equipment costs.

about the author

Kent Misegades is an aviation sales representative for U-Fuel of Elk Mound, WI. A pilot since 1973, Misegades is a director of the Aviation Fuel Club, co-author of the GAfuels blog for generalaviationnews.com, and president of EAA Chapter 1114. Contact the author at kent@ufuel.com

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