Delivering Overnight Hydrant Fuel Upgrades

By Grant Smith and Dan Eekhoff, MBA

Operations at a major international airport rarely slow down. Modifying hydrant pit locations, upgrading fuel system valves and piping, or shutting down the fuel system requires detailed planning and coordination. Typically, this can only happen overnight — after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m. — and, with contingency built into the schedule, a fuel shutdown may last for as little as four hours. Aircraft operations for passenger aircraft usually start between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., and may not shut down until after midnight. 

Planning for a fueling project starts with design and coordination with all stakeholders: airlines, airport operations personnel, the fueling system operator, the fire department and others. The smoothest projects involve detailed planning with contingencies. The planning involves designing modifications so that tie-in can be done in this short window of time. Typically Burns & McDonnell schedules construction of new equipment so that it is completed with only a quick crossover to be completed in the short window. Careful consideration needs to be taken for fuel quality and flushing of systems affected by welding steel fuel piping.

Examples of well-coordinated fueling system upgrades include the modernization of Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in California and a recent isolation valve installation at Portland International Airport (PDX) in Oregon.

LAX Terminal 1

Modernization of Terminal 1 at LAX led to a reconfiguring of gates, and that prompted the need for an essential shift: Because a hydrant pit for fuel must to be near the fuel port on the wing of each aircraft, many of the hydrant pits would need to be relocated. Burns & McDonnell came to the job with more than 30 years of experience designing and constructing major portions of the airport’s jet fuel system, including a major renovation of the LAXFUEL system the late ’80s and early ’90s and continuing with two recent projects: the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), plus the Midfield Satellite Concourse now under design. As part of the latest project, in relocating Terminal 1’s hydrant fuel pits, the hydrant had to be flushed for the first time since the terminal opened for the 1984 Olympic Games. Because the fuel system must be shut down during flushing and aircraft cannot be fueled until the flush is successfully completed, this project required detailed coordination with stakeholders to complete with minimal impact to operations.

The terminal’s underground piping, or hydrant system, connects to the LAXFUEL transfer line system on the north side of the terminal and delivers fuel to each gate through hydrant pits. Modifications to the terminal’s underground piping required flushing the system to remove any residual sediment or weld slag left behind when new sections of steel piping were added. Fuel is flushed through the system and into large mobile tanks positioned near the hydrant pits. Fuel is sampled for quality to confirm standards for clean fuel are met. Aircraft fueling is not permitted until the fuel system has been adequately flushed.

Since flushing requires a fuel shutdown, it must be completed during the short window at night when there are no aircraft operations. The flush at Terminal 1 was particularly challenging because it required more time than anticipated. Crews put in a team effort to see that mandatory quality standards were met in time to restore the fuel system to normal operation before scheduled flights resumed the next morning. 

PDX Isolation Valve Installation

At PDX, airlines worked with the airport to create a plan for testing underground fuel lines. Evaluations of fuel volumes in each line segment revealed that a transfer line — from the fuel facility to the terminal area — had too much fuel for optimal testing. The lower the volume in the line, the more accurate the testing results would be.

The airport's Airline Fuel Consortium retained Burns & McDonnell to install an isolation valve in the middle of the transfer line, to divide the system for testing. Using a design-build approach, the team conducted planning with the airport, airlines and fuel system operator and safely installed the underground isolation valve vault without disturbing airport operations or airline fueling services.

The new isolation valve and vault were installed adjacent to the existing transfer line, with an overnight tie-in. The overnight work — allotted eight hours — required the following steps:

  • Draining down about 30,000 gallons of fuel
  • Cutting the existing pipe at two locations 
  • Installing equipment and connection piping at four locations
  • Refilling the pipe 

To achieve success, Burns & McDonnell first conducted a practice run. Draining the fuel verified how long it would take to drain during actual construction. The well-orchestrated effort resulted in no flight delays, as the system was up and running an hour ahead of schedule. The project also generated savings of $465,000 on the overall project budget. 

Early Groundwork

For fueling projects, design and coordination with all stakeholders — including airlines, airport operations personnel, the fueling system operator and the fire department — are good places to start. Developing detailed planning and contingencies also is key.

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