Emphasis on Fuel Quality
Oil industry veteran walks through the fuel delivery, handling process
Fred Barnes is the manager of aviation for the product engineering department of Chevron Products Company. Since entering aviation in 1981, Barnes has specialized in fuel, from specifications to test methods to quality control. Here, he shares his thoughts on the fuel delivery/handling process.
There’s an entire chain of events
that occurs from the time the product is manufactured to the point where
it reaches the aircraft. It’s basically the custody transfer chain.
The fuel that’s used in an aircraft must meet the Type Certificate or Supplemental Type Certificate for that aircraft. That means we have to make sure it reaches the aircraft clean, dry, and on specification. It requires everyone in the whole custody chain to do their job, and to have the courage of their convictions. If they see something wrong or do something wrong, they must be willing to stop the flow of product until the question resolved.
We all talk about customers, but from Chevron’s product integrity perspective, I consider the airplane my customer. So quality supercedes any kind of pricing or any other competitive consideration.
It’s incumbent upon the pilot to make sure he gets the right specification fuel into his aircraft, and upon the distribution chain to make sure that it meets that specification.
So we start at the refinery with a fuel that has been tested to all applicable specifications, using official test methods such as ASTM. Then as we move it through the system, we implement a series of procedures and processes that assure that the product has not been contaminated and that we’re keeping it to an acceptable level of cleanliness.
We have five principles that we operate on: equipment; procedures; testing; training; and documentation. We apply those five principles to all phases of the distribution system.
A key thing for this type of system is you must control the quality rather than let it go haphazard through the marketplace. For instance, in equipment, we have equipment that is dedicated to aviation fuels; and we have procedures that are used as standard industry practices for keeping the equipment functioning properly, for maintaining the filtration equipment and the terminal and transportation equipment.
So whether the product moves by barge, truck, rail, or pipeline, it’s all maintained to a standard to ensure that the quality is protected.
TESTING & INSPECTING
When we get it to an intermediate point in the system, such as a terminal, we test the product and we run key property tests that are selected specifically to show us when there’s a problem with the product. We select these key properties to assure that we have not contaminated it with other products, dirt, water, or other unacceptable material.
We implement this type of testing at every point when the product changes hands. This goes down to individual airport dealers who also check the product when they receive it, and have procedures to follow and have documentation of the quality.
Regarding fixed base operations, the majority of airport dealers receive their fuel by truck. Our dealers are required to log the received product into their system. We do not have any unattended deliveries; we will not deliver into a non-tagged system.
The dealer checks the product against the bill of lading and does a visual check (white bucket test) for particles and water. Each truck compartment is checked prior to offloading. In addition, API gravity checks are done to make sure the product is not delivered into the wrong tank.
In this "real" world, there is no such thing as "zero" particles or water, so the FBO is trained to inspect the fuel to be sure it’s bright and clear. If the dealer pulls a white bucket sample off the bottom or a compartment and sees one little fleck of rust, that’s not a rejection. If it goes beyond his criteria, however, the fuel will be returned to the shipping source.
Our standards require that proper filtration be installed at each airport facility. Regardless of facility design, the dealer is required to use only components which meet aviation standards for vessels and coalescers, monitor cartridges, or micronic filters. For example, a filter separator vessel (coalescing unit) must meet API 1581, latest edition. Industry standards for marking lines and valves are required.
When appropriate, we have dealers follow ATA 103 for airlines. ATA 103 is called a specification by the Air Transport Association, and it’s a document that the airlines can use for their own QC requirements. The purpose originally was to standardize some procedures so the into-plane agents could do a standard procedure rather than 15 individual ones with multiple airline customers. However, with the way our regulatory system works, each airline must incorporate the ATA document into their own operating manual because that’s what the FAA holds them liable for. Some airlines have adopted it carte blanc, other airlines have adopted certain features. By and large, they’ve accepted it.
Documentation is one of the more common deficiencies — the dealers not keeping the records that they should be keeping on a daily basis. Documentation is an important part of the chain; it gives us a record and if personnel are doing the documentation they’re probably doing the QC checks.
One of the advantages of documentation is if somebody has a complaint and a dealer has an excellent record of documentation, he can produce that evidence. If he has no records there’s always a cloud of suspicion. It’s especially a problem with employee changeover. A new person may not appreciate how important it is; that’s why we try to instill the passion of this business into our system.
Future of Fuels
From Chevron’s Technical Review-aviation fuels, a guidance document for dealers...
"In 1986, the U.S. Environ-mental Protection Agency banned lead
in motor gasoline. Although avgas was not included in the ban, concerns
that the use of lead in avgas would eventually be restricted led the industry
to begin looking for unleaded replacement fuels in the early 1990s.
"As of this writing, no viable fuels (to replace Avgas 100LL) have emerged from this program."
"ASTM recently approved this new (Grade 82UL) specification for a low-octane unleaded avgas, D6227... Grade 82UL is not a replacement for Grade 80; it is intended only for aircraft piston engines specifically developed to use this unleaded avgas."