“Our responsibility includes determining the design and operation of fuel storage, distribution and dispensing through the installation of a heavily modified fuel hydrant system,” explains Arthur Mitchell, Air BP’s manager of global engineering and projects. “Airport fuel infrastructure forms a vital part of the fuel supply chain. The system has to be able to adapt to the changing needs of the airport including modifications to aircraft parking locations,” he continues.
Having first put a spade in the ground in 2017, the airport celebrated the completion of the first major phase of its transformation programme – the opening of Pier One in April 2019. The 216m pier is used by all airlines currently operating out of Terminal 2 and has been constructed to stick out perpendicularly from the face of the terminal building.
At smaller airports it might be customary to refuel an aircraft by pulling a tanker vehicle up alongside the plane and pumping fuel from the vehicle into the fuel tanks of an aircraft. At larger airports a different system is used. Pipes from storage tanks located underground carry fuel to various locations on the parking apron. At each of these points hydrant pit valves are located just beneath the surface. It’s to one of these valves that a fuel operator will connect one end of a hose located on their fuelling dispenser vehicle. The other end is connected to pipework on the dispenser to allow fuel to flow through a filter and meter and through the dispenser’s delivery hose connected to the aircraft’s fuel tank.
In order to carry out the work to Pier One, Air BP was tasked with excavating trenches to lay new pipe sections and pit valves for new aircraft parking positions, digging down to expose the existing fuel hydrant, which is up to 24” in diameter, to connect the new pipe to the existing pipe. Fuel hydrant pipe is usually made of welded steel and is located at depths of up to 4m (to avoid a myriad of other buried services such as storm drains, high voltage electricity, fire mains and communication cables). Deep excavations and welding pipe that contains fuel requires total commitment to safety.
What’s more, this is only the start. Work is ongoing at the airport with two more piers and their associated infrastructure expected to be complete by 2024.
Challenges in the pipeline
Part of the challenge, explains Mitchell, is that our work on the fuelling infrastructure has to be carried out while normal day-to-day operations and flight schedules are adhered to. “There are times when the fuel system has to be shut down in order to carry out work such as welding. This involves the existing pipe being drained of aviation fuel, before being cut and that area being made safe to weld in the new pipe. But we do have a window every evening of around five to six hours when the fuel system can be shut down so we can carry out the necessary work, but it’s tight and work overrunning can delay the early flights,” he says.
The ability to work alongside other teams and to ensure minimal disruption to services while ensuring that the stringent fuel product quality requirements are met is all part of the service being provided by Air BP. But as far as the passenger is concerned, Mitchell explains “the only element a passenger would ever see of the work being carried out below the apron’s surface is the hydrant pit. It’s from here that the hydrant dispenser (or fuel truck) connects to the hydrant pit valve to supply fuel to the aircraft.”