McCarran Int'l Boosts Fuel Storage Capacity to Keep Pace With Traffic Growth

Ronnie Garrett
Published in: 


Project: East Side Fuel Farm Complex

Location: McCarran Int'l Airport (Las Vegas)

Cost: $25 million

Funding: Airline Consortium Loan

Capacity: 65,000 barrels

Completed: Oct. 31, 2011

Engineering & Design: Pond & Co.

General & Mechanical Contractor:

Underground Construction Co.

Airline Fuel Consortium: LASfuel Corp.

Consortium Consultant: Argus Consulting

Fuel Farm Operator: Swissport

Monitoring Software: Custom Control Manufacturing

In 2008, McCarran International Airport ranked 6th in the world for aircraft movements, with nearly 579,000 takeoffs and landings. It also ushered a record 44 million passengers through its terminal.

Yet despite such volume, aircraft were being fueled from a tank farm built by Shell, Chevon, Unocal Corporation and Delta Airlines in the 1960s. Eventually, however, significant growth and a 13-month airport-led study about future fuel availability in southern Nevada prompted officials to take a serious look at expanding the airport's East Side Tank Farm Facility.

"In 2006 to 2007 we were growing like crazy - we're talking 10 to 15% a year," recalls Jim Stevenson, regional operations manager for Southwest Airlines and president of LASfuel Corporation, the airline fuel consortium at McCarran International. As the gallons pumped kept rising, the need for more storage became more evident.

Although growth slowed as the economy nosedived, airport officials still saw a tremendous need to move forward on the $25 million improvement project. The project, funded by a LASfuel loan with John Hancock, increased fuel storage capacity by 65,000 barrels. A future second phase will add three more 65,000-barrel fuel tanks.

"When completed, the fuel farm improvements will collectively provide 23.5 million gallons of usable jet fuel in on-airport storage - enough to support the LAS Aircraft Hydrant Fueling System over a 14-day period," states Randall Walker, Clark County director of aviation.

Making it Fit

Crews from Underground Construction Co. recently completed Phase I of the fuel farm project, which began in September 2009. The upgrade included two additional 1,200-gpm variable drive pumps, a 65,000-barrel fuel storage tank, an improved foam fire protection system, a new oil/water separator and lift station, and the installation of dike containment walls.


Plans originally included four new 65,000-barrel tanks and the demolition of several existing smaller tanks, but the scope was changed to reduce costs. Demolition and the installation of three tanks were deferred to Phase II.

But before anything could move forward, engineers had to find space for a new tank within the existing fuel farm's limited footprint - not an easy feat given that the site is completely landlocked.


Pond & Co. identified available space for the new tank within the existing fuel farm next to an existing tank, where a smaller tank once sat. "In order to fit a larger tank into that space, we had to make it tighter in diameter and taller on height," explains Kris Allegood, project manager with Pond & Co.

"This [finding the space] made phasing the project a lot easier," adds Jeff Meier, Pond & Co. senior vice president and principal in charge of the McCarran project. "The original thought was they were going to have to make due with less fuel capacity during the first phase of the project, but we found a way to maintain capacity at 100% while crews constructed the first tank."

Without a Hitch

"The airport had to continue to operate without incident while crews demolished, constructed and integrated new tanks, piping, pumps and electrical controls," says Allegood. "We had to compile a set of construction documents that detailed every step of the project for the contractor to adhere to."


Pond & Co. engineers worked to consider every aspect of the project - no matter how small - during the design phase. For instance, when environmental studies showed a small pocket of soil contamination, they planned where to store the soil until crews could haul it away.

Design specifications also required Underground Construction to hold weekly meetings with stakeholders to discuss and coordinate construction. This helped crews plan construction around airport operations to avoid unnecessary shutdowns. For instance, the phasing document detailed where a temporary test stand for the fuel farm's cart testing would be set up and how it would work. It also specified that the temporary stand had to be in place before workers demolished the existing stand.

Open communication between stakeholders kept the project moving without a hitch, says Stevenson. "We worked closely with Swissport Fueling (the fueling contractor), Pond & Co., Underground Construction Co., all the stakeholders, to keep interruptions to a minimum," he says. "We were never in a position where we couldn't receive fuel from the pipeline."

Argus Consulting also helped keep the project on track and the fuel consortium informed, adds Stevenson. "The consortiums have learned - sometimes the hard way - that when you have a large construction project, you need to hire an independent engineer to oversee the construction and watch out for the airlines' interest."

As landowner, Clark County Department of Aviation was also heavily involved in the project. The department assigned a project coordinator from its construction and engineering division to help coordinate design and construction.

"Airport staff worked closely with LASfuel, Swissport, airline tenants and local building agencies throughout the design and construction process to ensure all new systems, proposed construction materials, construction methods and integration with airport infrastructure systems met current airport standards as well as applicable building and fire codes," Walker says. "Weekly project site meetings were held to review and discuss progress and to quickly resolve any issues when necessary."

Above & Beyond

The resulting design surpassed the airport's requirements, says Allegood.

The project upgraded the previous earthen berm containment dike system. Now, concrete walls surround the new and existing tanks, and impervious liners lie beneath the tanks and walls. "In the old days, you just stuck a tank in the dirt and built earthen berms around it," Stevenson relects. "Now, you put flexible plastic liners down, you build a tank foundation on top of pH-neutral sand, and you put concrete walls around all of it."

The airport included the environmental measures even though Nevada law did not require them. "The potential for containment to be required in the future exists, so we made sure they were covered from an environmental standpoint," explains Meier. "That was proactive planning on everyone's part."

The existing fuel farm had four 1,200-gpm pumps and filter separators, which delivered 4,800 gallons of fuel per minute to the airport via a 24-inch pipeline. The project added two more 1,200-gpm variable speed driven pumps and filters to boost capacity to 7,200 gallons per minute. Variable motors enable operators to control system pressure on the fly, which allows them to reduce capacity when fuel demand slows.

Perimeter fencing was also added, per new TSA requirements.

Updated software from Custom Control Manufacturing and an on-site terminal provide the fuel operations manager with graphic displays of tank levels, flow rates, valve positions, etc.

The system's remote monitoring capabilities enable operations managers to monitor tank farm day and night. While they cannot control the system from a remote laptop or PC, they can track its functions and receive emergency alarms.

"Being able to monitor the system remotely gives the ability to man the facility with less people and be more efficient," says Meier. "It also provides tighter inventory control because the system shows what's coming in from multiple sources and what's going out to multiple sources. And all it takes is a click of a mouse."

In Case of Fire…

Pond & Co. consulted Clark County Fire Department, which has jurisdiction over fuel-related projects, early in the design phase.

"We went into this project with the understanding that Clark County Fire Department is highly sensitive to life safety and fire protection because of the tourism industry here," notes Meier. "We brought them in as a partner from day one to get their input and make sure we designed a system that would meet their needs."

The collaboration produced what Allegood considers "the most advanced fire protection system at any airport nationwide."

The new fire protection system stores Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) concentrate onsite and also connects to each of the fuel tanks. There's also a connected onsite reserve that provides 100% redundancy and added safety. 

Fueling the Future

Though air traffic at McCarran International slowed during the economic downturn, it's starting to pick up, reports Walker. Stevenson predicts that it won't be long before Phase II construction will be needed.

Though originally targeted for completion in 2012, Phase II will be postponed if economic conditions don't continue to improve, notes Walker.

 "We are really keeping an eye on the Vegas market, and Phase II is designed and in the can - ready to go," Stevenson says. "We will implement it when we feel growth has taken off."


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