Fast-Track Fuel Farm Expansion is Team Effort at Atlanta Int'l

Jennifer Bradley
Published in: 

One of the hallmarks of any good team is players who give due credit to their teammates. And airport project teams are no exception, as demonstrated by the crew that pulled off an $8 million expansion of the fuel farm at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) two weeks early and under budget.

The team added a pair of new 50,000-barrel tanks, more than doubling the capacity of the facility leased and operated by ATLECON Fuel Consortium. Most notably, the players did it all - design to construction - in less than a year, finishing months before fuel needed to flow from the expanded facility to the Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal F that opened last May.


Project: Fuel Farm Expansion
Location: Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Int'l Airport
Farm Owner: Airport
Leased & Operated By: ATLECON Fuel Consortium
Expansion Cost: $8 million
Project Duration: 11 months
Timeline: Feb. 1 - Dec. 31, 2011
New Equipment: 2 fuel tanks, 50,000 barrels each; a pair of 1,000 gal/min hydrant pumps; 800-gal/min inbound filtration bank
Total Capacity: 8.19 million gal.
Engineer/Consultant: Pond & Co. 
Primary Contractor: Pond Constructors
Tanks: Fisher Tank Co.
Subcontractor: Player and Co.

Olen Bennett, a strategic sourcing manager for Delta Air Lines and ATLECON chairman, describes the project as a "well-planned symphony." Of the many projects he's been involved in throughout his career, Bennett expects ATL's to distinguish itself for a long time to come.

"Based on my experience with other consortiums, this was probably the most aggressive schedule I've seen," he reflects. "The fact that this entire project, from initial blueprint to finish, was 11 months was exceptional."

Dean Flessas, vice president of Pond & Company, recalls the team's marching orders as: "We need this done, and we need it done tomorrow." Bennett considers the facility's performance - tanks performing "flawlessly" and a complete lack of operational issues since the December 2011 completion - as a testament to the team's work.

On Task

Once the team was given the go-ahead, ATLECON and ATL reviewed several options for increasing the fuel capacity to service the airport's new 16-gate international terminal. It was an unusual predicament, Bennett recalls, as the task was to be completed within less than a year.

With Pond & Company in place as lead engineer, all project leads began the permitting process. Keeping the deadline-driven project on task required strong program managers, and Bennett says Pond & Company did just that.

Team leaders also chose the right subcontractors, he adds, mentioning Player and Company in particular. "The success story here is the relationship between the engineering firm and their subcontractors, ensuring none of them missed the deadlines set for them," Bennett reflects. 

Ken Bilson, senior project manager and associate at Pond & Company, agrees that it was important to get the right team in place, but also to include them in decision-making from the beginning. This was especially true for Pond Constructors, the lead contractor that finished two weeks ahead of schedule. Bilson characterizes the company as a "valuable sounding board" for reviewing concepts and discussing constructability. "With this rigorous time schedule, it made sense to do it turnkey, and all the right players made it successful," he explains.

ATL's role was ensuring that the team had what it needed to meet its tight schedule, notes Bennett. In retrospect, he notes that this type of fast-track project would not work for fuel consortiums that lack open and honest communication with their airport authorities. "Nobody wins; that doesn't work,"
he says plainly.

Local and state fire marshals, municipal water authorities and FAA officials also played a primary role in the design process, and were included from the very beginning. When fire officials required an access drive around the facility, engineers had to determine how to fit it into ATL's tight space, recalls Bilson. Involving such key personnel and implementing their design requirements at the beginning eliminated redesigns later, he notes.

"We couldn't afford to start the design and then find out we had some big bust in the concept," explains Bilson.

ATL's established relationships with the various permitting agencies proved invaluable throughout the planning stages, adds Bennett. A large part of staying on task was working through the red tape, and an early start and good working histories with the agencies helped facilitate the process, he notes.

Another important part of the strategy was "making it worth the extra effort." According to Bennett, using financial incentives to encourage the team to meet tight deadlines worked for ATLECON, and he encourages airport executives with similar project schedules to consider using them, too. Contracts at ATL were written to allow incentive bonuses to flow down to subcontractors employed by Pond Constructors, a subsidiary and group closely connected to Pond & Company.

Dennis Dunham, on-site project manager for Pond Constructors, made sure materials were in place and minor glitches addressed. "When I first took the job, I worried about the worst; and it was nothing like that," he reflects. "It couldn't have been better."

Dunham agrees with Bennett about the value of incentives. Simple acknowledgements such as providing pizza for the construction crews were a big hit, he notes.

While Bilson cites Buck Buchanan, ATL's Planning and Development facility manager, as an integral part of the mission, Buchanan shrugs off the compliment and directs the praise back to the team, noting that good contractors and communication make "a tremendous difference."

Bill Carpenter, a senior electrical engineer at Pond & Company, joins in on the verbal high fives: "Early on, all the people involved recognized the importance of planning, so when we did implement the construction, we had a definite course to take."

Built to Fit

The fuel farm at ATL is locked in by taxiways on two sides, and a ground run-up facility and jet fuel pipeline easement on the other two sides. It was up to Pond & Company to maximize the limited space, explains Flessas. Despite the physical constraints, ATL's airlines want the capacity to bring in extra fuel when market prices are favorable, plus the ability to keep flying if a mishap strikes the farm.

Engineers more than doubled the farm's previous capacity by adding two 50,000-barrel fuel tanks to the existing footprint. The new design also left operators confident that they have room to contain a potential spill should one occur, notes Bilson.

The tank building itself is "impressive," says Dunham. He marvels at the efficiency of crews from Fisher Tank, who welded seven steel rings on each tank with custom equipment that completed 250 feet of circumferential weld in less than one day. A welder was positioned in a suspended basket, with equipment inside and outside the tank. "It was absolutely amazing," he remarks.

With the project scheduled to end during winter, coating the extremely large tanks was initially a concern, because necessary layers can't be applied in cold temperatures. Fisher Tank addressed the concerns by priming the tanks in its shops. The strategy not only eliminated the risk of weather-related delays to that portion of the project, it also saved time on-site, explains Flessas. Good weather prevailed, however, throughout the entire construction period, notes Dunham.

Working at a fully functional airport was a challenge, recalls Buchanan. Even though the welding could only occur in daylight, the fuel farm never shut down during the project, he adds: "We were literally working within the flight-restricted area the entire time."

Another significant challenge was ensuring that the new control systems were compatible with existing units that were built in the 1990s. From an operator's standpoint, this was essential, stresses Buchanan. Carpenter agrees, but notes that such issues are common. "It's rare that we have a greenfield," he explains. "The challenge is to go in and identify the existing infrastructure and how it works."

In addition to the two new tanks increasing the facility's storage capacity, a new 800 gallon-per-minute inbound filtration system increased its flow rate from the Colonial and Kinder Morgan Pipelines. More importantly, the new features provide redundancy, ensuring that product can be moved, emphasizes Flessas. Crews also added a pair of new hydrant pumps and filter separator sets, each pumping 1,000 gallons per minute out of the fuel farm.

"Lots of particulars go into such a design," Bilson concludes.

With such a large volume of details during the $8 million project, it's easy to understand why so many key participants stress the importance and value of good teamwork.

Fuel Operations

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