Fuel Farms Control Aviation’s Largest Cost

Effective management and efficient distribution are keys to business model’s success.


Typically, the fuel farm will integrate several parts of a fuel system at an airport into one more efficient system. This has been the case in Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other large airports where multiple oil companies operated several independent fuel farms at one airport.

Airports benefit from the airlines forming fuel farms since it is easier for an airport to work on lease terms and master planning with airlines instead of oil companies. There is a familiarity with the companies operating multiple facilities at the airport rather than large oil companies that are only interested in the fuel facility.

In situations where the airport has owned and operated the fueling facilities, there is a reduced need for staff expertise in fueling design, construction and operations when the airlines take on those responsibilities.

Other services could be managed by an airline consortium and range from the procurement of common needs, such as skycap services, to maintenance of collectively used equipment, such as baggage handling systems or passenger boarding bridges. Going forward, it may be possible to translate the benefits of airline consortia management to other activities, including ground support equipment maintenance and aircraft deicing.

Moving further into the 21st century, efficiency in operations is the goal of all parties. Airlines are faced with higher fuel and operating costs, and they continue to look for ways to be more competitive. Delta Airlines buying a refinery in the Northeast last April is one more example of building out tighter control of the supply chain.

Perhaps we may soon see airlines buying leases in the Gulf of Mexico or purchasing fuel tanker ships or pipelines to move jet fuel to major airports.

Grant A. Smith is the director of aviation service at Burns & McDonnell Engineering. Smith's primary focus includes commercial aviation fueling systems. He can be reached at gsmith@burnsmcd.com.

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