A push for fuel-truck safety at Richmond's airport appears to be paying off, officials said last week.
"It has been a smooth transition with enforcement staff and tenants embracing safer day-to-day operations at the airport," Jon Mathiasen, the airport's president and chief executive officer, said in an e-mail.
He was referring to a set of safety and training rules approved by the Capital Region Airport Commission in mid-December. Their passage followed a sometimes-heated debate with the owners of the major fueling operations - Million Air Richmond and Aero Industries - over authorizing the board to ban an operator for up to a year in the event of a serious airport accident.
The rules were drafted after two incidents early last year when commercial jets were struck by Million Air fuel trucks. No one was seriously injured in either mishap, but they sparked more scrutiny of all ground operations.
The previous rules were outdated and lacked proper oversight of the airfield, Mathiasen said. They apply to anyone who does business around aircraft, including construction companies and restaurant suppliers.
Responding to a Freedom of Information Act query, Mathiasen reported that his staff has given fuel-truck drivers three verbal warnings for minor violations under the new rules.
The safety concerns come at a time of record passenger growth at Richmond International Airport, with hundreds of vehicles a day servicing 104 departing planes.
"Everyone is fully aware of the requirement for safe operations," said Eugene McDonough, president of Million Air Richmond. "The extra training doesn't hurt anybody."
He said his aviation-services company has changed how it removes fuel from planes to eliminate any potential for an electrical spark. On Dec. 18, the airport's inspectors gave a verbal warning concerning that issue at Million Air's hangar.
Aero Industries received a verbal caution Jan. 2 when a fuel-truck driver overrode the dead man's switch meant to stop equipment if an operator is incapacitated. Another warning was issued to Aero on Feb. 14 when a driver failed to report striking an access card reader.
Aero officials declined to comment, except to say both were minor infractions that occurred away from aircraft and outside the airport's secure zone.
Violations can lead to misdemeanor charges punishable by jail terms of up to a year and fines as high as $2,500.
Beverley "Booty" Armstrong, chairman of the regional airport commission, said the owners of the fueling operations initially resisted the stiffer rules but appear to be getting used to them.
"Something had to be done under the circumstances," Armstrong said. "While it's way too early to tell if it's working or not, I'm confident we will be glad we did it."
Improving airfield safety
A pair of accidents in early 2006 led to a crackdown on fuel-truck operators. In one (above, left), a truck carrying 4,000 gallons of jet fuel struck a United Express jet. The truck driver sustained cuts to his face from a broken windshield. He received a safety citation and small fine.
In the second incident (above, right), a truck with 2,900 gallons of jet fuel rolled into the back of a twin-engine Continental Express jet with 44 passengers aboard. The driver had fallen asleep after working a graveyard shift for another airport employer. He was charged with reckless driving and lost his fueling job.
No passengers were reported injured.
Neither airline provided damage estimates for their aircraft. Officials at Million Air Richmond, whose drivers were involved in both mishaps, said the incidents were costly in time, image and personnel.
Contact staff writer Chip Jones at email@example.com or (804) 649-6726.