Airport Growth Prompts Fueling

Kathy Hamilton
Published in: 

With approximately 1,600 aircraft operations each day and nearly 40 million passengers each year, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) has undergone a number of expansions to keep up with its traffic. As PHX added gates, concourses and terminals, its fueling facilities steadily expanded behind the scenes, too - most recently with the installation of a fifth storage tank for $1.9 million.

Facts & Figures

Project: Fueling Facility Expansion

Location: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Cost: $600,000

Owner/Builder: Arizona Fueling Facilities Corporation (14-airline consortium)

Fueling Contractor: Swissport Fueling

Design/Engineer of Record: Pond & Company

Mechanical Constructor/Pipeline Tester: Kear Civil Corporation

Electrical Contractor: Spectra Electrical Services

Tank Fabricator: Brown Tank and Steel

Design/Construction: 6 months (excluding 8-month lead for steel purchase and tank fabrication)

Prime Benefit: Ensures sufficient fuel storage reserves

Legacy of Expansion

PHX became the tenth busiest airport in the nation just two decades after the City of Phoenix purchased the airport in 1935 for $100,000. Today, it's one of the ten busiest in the world. Along the way, the airport built four terminals (three remain in operation) and expanded its jet-A fueling facility three times to keep pace with the growth. Capacity, however, remains a moving target for the 3.3-acre fueling facility. A seventh concourse was added to Terminal 4 in 2004, and a new 33-gate terminal is scheduled to replace the current 12-gate Terminal 2 as early as 2011.

In 1980, two 30-MBBL aboveground tanks (each with a capacity of 30,000 barrels or 1.26 million gallons) sufficed. A 12-mile underground pipeline was installed to cary fuel into the facility from an off-site tank farm where real estate was less expensive. As PHX's air traffic increased, demand on the single 10-inch diameter pipeline was non-stop. Without sufficient reserve storage, failure of the system could shut down the airport as in 2002, when an electrical problem caused the system to stop operating for about 2 hours. Resulting flight cancellations affected 1,500 passengers. 

Dan Liss, corrosion engineer for Swissport Fueling, PHX's fueling operator, notes another consideration: Air Transport Association standards require that fuel settles one hour for every foot of storage depth. "This cuts into the volume of fuel available at any one time," he explains, "so you need enough storage to simultaneously accommodate product receiving, settling and disbursements."

The addition of two more 30-MBBL aboveground tanks in 1990 carried the airport for a few years. But in 2007, PHX again approached the limits of its storage reserve. Under the leadership of the Arizona Fueling Facilities Corporation (AFFC), the 14-airline consortium that owns the fueling system, Swissport planned for the installation of a fifth 30-MBBL aboveground tank.

With the tank up and running, PHX can now store a four- to five-day fuel supply on site in addition to its off-site storage, reports John Malenfant, manager of fuel operations for U.S. Airways (AFFC's chair airline). "When the time comes that the airport begins to outgrow this storage reserve, AFFC will do what's necessary to keep aircraft moving in and out of PHX," says Malenfant.

Steel at a Steal

AFFC Swissport scheduled the tank project for March to September, 2007. The six-month window created two major obstacles for Pond & Company, the firm hired to provide design-build services.

"Early in 2007, the price of steel from China was at an all-time high and climbing," recalls Ken Bilson, Pond's project manager. "Also, steel fabricators were demanding six- to 12-month lead times, due to worldwide demand for tank construction projects, some of which included Hurricane Katrina reconstruction projects."

Pond moved quickly, purchasing the steel and hiring the tank builder, Brown Tank and Steel, eight months before construction was to begin. "We were able to avoid six months of delays by buying the tank ahead of time," explains Bilson. "If we had adhered to our normal design-bid-build process, steel prices would have continued to rise for the duration. Instead, while we worked at completing the tank design and specifications, we hired Brown Tank and Steel to secure the steel. Having materials on site once construction started allowed them to start on the tank right away, allowing us to meet Swissport's schedule, and we paid the lowest price you could get for steel in 2007."

Following Tradition

Swissport specified that the new tank be designed to match the four existing tanks, which are almost identical. The company's reasoning had little to do with aesthetics and everything to do with function.

According to Robert Brown, president of Brown Tank and Steel, it would be tough to improve on the original design. "When Tanks 1 and 2 were built in the '80s, the fabricator built them to withstand everything from flood to hurricane to earthquake - the worst-case conditions anywhere." So Brown used the same design when it built Tanks 3 and 4 in the 1990s.

Design drawings and specifications from Pond, along with information Brown found in a 15-year-old file for Tanks 3 and 4, saved time and ensured a consistent design. Updated equipment such as undertank cathodic protection, leak detection monitoring ports and floating suction to skim the cleanest fuel off the top of the tank was also added. The final design created a 67-foot wide, 48-foot tall steel storage tank in a common containment dike with the four older tanks. An intermediate concrete dike wall and an impervious liner that surrounds the new tank provide additional minor spill containment. Spiral stairs lead to a new catwalk that connects the new Tank 5 to the adjacent Tank 4. Two bright red lines can deliver fire protection foam to Tank 5 from a fire department connection that is adjacent to four identical connections at the entrance of the facility. An automatic tank gauge within a secondary pipe (stilling well) allows accurate measurement of fuel levels.

The mechanical contractor for the project, Kear Civil Corporation, built the fuel, fireline and storm drain piping associated with Tank 5, and the piping support structures. According to Alan Menefee, Kear's on-site project manager, the firm used non-destructive testing to verify every weld, and then pressure-tested the system. The pipes and welds were also inspected and approved by the owner and by a Department of Transportation-approved third party.

After the new piping and welds passed multiple inspections, Kear made the last connection. "We built the piping so a single connection would tie the new piping to the existing system," says Menefee. Because the fueling system had to be shut down during the final connection, Kear completed that work between midnight and 5:00 a.m. to avoid interfering with airport operations.

After the final connection was completed, it was tested and inspected and the fueling system was turned back on as the sun came up. "We did about ten hours of work in four hours that night," Menefee recalls.

Spectra Electrical Services provided electrical elements, including an automatic tank gauging system, motor operated valves, tank lighting and a sump separator motor.

Liss attributes the "uneventful" nature of the project to the major players' history of working together. "All of the parties - Swissport, Pond, Kear, Brown Tank and Steel, and the City of Phoenix - have worked together on so many projects," he explains. "We've learned to mesh all of the elements for a seamless project completion."

Fuel Operations

2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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