Do-it-yourself plane-fueling plan may tank; Pilot appeals to FAA after Wheeling airport rejects idea

July 9, 2007

Rob Hillerich said fellow pilots at Chicago Executive Airport should be allowed to pull up to a pump and fill their own tanks, just as motorists do.

But his proposal to open a self-fueling business at the Wheeling airport was rejected by officials, who cited Federal Aviation Administration operating standards.

"I've made it clear to the airport that I'm trying to help," said Hillerich, a pilot who filed a complaint last month with the FAA.

Hillerich, who operates a wholesale automotive parts business as well as a gas station in Glenview, said his plan would offer savings of about $1 per gallon on fuel that can cost up to $6 per gallon. The savings, he said, would come from lower overhead because the business would not need a truck or operator to do the refueling.

FAA Great Lakes regional spokesman Tony Molinaro said his agency will decide if Hillerich's complaint has merit and will, possibly, open an investigation.

Airport board Chairman Kevin Dohm said opposition is based on standards that call for self-fueling only by "fixed-base" operators, or those with a business at the airport. Most planes at the former Palwaukee airport are fueled by trucks operated by aircraft service companies based there, officials said.

"To me, it's not an adversarial situation," Dohm said. "The FAA might come back and recommend we change the minimum standards, or they might tell Mr. Hillerich that to meet minimum standards, he needs to be a fixed-base operator."

That would require an investment of millions in facilities and equipment, said Mark Costa, general manager of Signature Flight Support, one of the airport's fixed-base operators.

Hillerich, of Northbrook, presented plans last fall to lease space for underground tanks and equipment that would allow pilots to pull up to a station and fuel aircraft with low lead, or 100 LL, gasoline used in piston airplane engines, and Jet A, used in jet and turbine engines.

Self-fueling has been an option for about seven years at DuPage Airport in West Chicago. All retail fuel sales are handled by the airport authority, said Mike Masciola, director of business development and marketing. He said the savings average about 50 cents per gallon.

Some larger corporate aircraft operators at Chicago Executive have a self-fueling option, but not pilots of smaller piston-powered aircraft, which depend on delivery trucks whose operators do the fueling, officials said.

Hillerich and airport officials agree that about 500,000 gallons of fuel are pumped each month, with about 20,000 of that low lead. According to airport manager Dennis Rouleau, the airport receives a fee of roughly 11 cents per gallon on all fuel sold.

By comparison, Masciola said DuPage sells 80,000 to 100,000 gallons of low-lead each year in self-fueling.

Hillerich said the decision not to allow self-fueling demonstrated that the airport didn't support the "piston pilot community."

Rouleau said it was a question of fairness to the current fuel providers who have spent millions on their facilities at the airport.

"It's easy to have someone sell fuel, but we want them to offer other services and facilities," he said.

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