Quad City Int'l Assumes Refueling Responsibility & Builds New Fuel Farm

Ronnie Garrett
Published in: 

When Quad City International Airport (MLI) in Moline, IL, lost one of its six air carriers in 2003, it gained a new profit center in the process.

Trans States Airlines opened the door for the airport to assume its refueling operations when the airline decided to


Project: Fuel Farm & Glycol Storage

Location: Quad City (IL) Int'l Airport

Project Start: Nov. 2010

Completion: Phases 1 & 2 completed in May; Phase 3 to be complete by Sept. 1

Cost: $5.3 million

Oversight Engineer: McClure Engineering Company

Design Engineer: Prime Engineering

Fuel Farm Construction: Seneca Companies

discontinue flight service there, explains MLI director of aviation Bruce Carter. Although the airline had hoped to continue its refueling service, Carter says the airport decided to "go a different route" and began providing fuel to its remaining five carriers via a limited liability corporation named QCIA Airport Services.

Carter first approached the airport's fixed-base operator, Elliott Aviation, about expanding its fueling operation to include commercial aircraft. After it declined, however, Metropolitan Airport Authority seized the opportunity. Under the authority's oversight, the airport purchased a refueling truck from Trans State and added two more used Garsite trucks (a 2005 and 2007). It also hired an operations manager to oversee six full-time operators and one part-time employee who provide service from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

"Quality control measures are strictly adhered to and all fueling personnel are trained in safe fuel handling procedures," Carter specifies.

In addition to creating a new revenue stream for the airport, assuming fueling services gave MLI control over the fueling fees charged to its airlines. "We waive hookup fees to new airlines, creating the potential for us to attract more airlines in the future," relates Carter. The ability to keep fees "stable" and "very attractive" for existing carriers is another positive aspect to the arrangement, he adds.

Future Fueling

A few years after entering the refueling business, MLI found itself needing new equipment, recalls Carter. The airport's 30-year-old fuel farm had reached the end of its service life, and it was time to replace its eight jet-A tanks.

In November 2010, MLI embarked on a $5.3 million construction project, paid for entirely by the airport authority. Crews replaced the airport's eight tanks, which had a total capacity of 120,000 gallons, with three 50,000-gallon fuel tanks - increasing capacity by 30,000 gallons. They also installed three 8,000-gallon tanks for aircraft deicing fluid.

The new farm's capacity was designed to serve the airport's projected consumption for the next 30 years, notes Scott Stephenson, project manager for McClure Engineering Company.

Besides upgrading fuel storage, the new system will move all glycol storage to one place. "With five airlines, we had five different locations where glycol was stored in small 500-gallon tanks," relates Carter. "We will now have one location where airlines can load glycol into their trucks and transport it to where it's needed." Having one central location for fuel and glycol is an attractive change, he notes.

The new fuel farm represents a "huge upgrade" to the airport's fueling infrastructure, says Cory Hadwiger, construction manager with Seneca Companies. "The new system expands their fuel capacity, product management and remote monitoring capabilities," Hadwiger explains. The project included tank monitoring software and Hectronic glycol monitoring software, which enables the fuel operations manager to monitor fuel use, tank levels, pumping rates, revolutions per minute and amperage draws from a remote computer.

Coordinating Construction

Like most projects, construction of MLI's $5.3 million fuel farm included a few hiccups.

"Fundamentally, the biggest challenge was constructing a new fuel farm while maintaining complete operation of the existing fuel farm," Carter says. "But there were no other options; there was no other site to use while the new fuel farm was being constructed."

Careful planning and coordination between the contractor, design engineer and airport fueling personnel allowed it to work, he adds.

Todd Eldridge, P.E., senior engineer at Prime Engineering, credits the airport's active engagement and Seneca's diligence in maintaining a usable system for the success in transitioning from the old farm to the new without any downtime.

Extra efforts were needed to ensure fuel capacity remained at sufficient levels to meet the airlines' needs, notes Hadwiger. "It took a lot of strategic coordination and communication to carry this off without a hitch," he recalls.

Prime Engineering designed the system so construction could be staged, which enabled construction crews to carry out their duties while fueling operators did their jobs. Phase 1 involved preparing the site and taking half of the existing system off-line while installing two of the three new fuel tanks. Once the first two tanks were online, Phase 2 commenced with crews demolishing the remaining tanks to prepare the site for Phase 3, which involved installation of the third fuel tank and all three glycol tanks.

Extensive foundation work also occurred, with Seneca's crews driving piles with large caps on top to support the substantially larger new tanks.

"We always had to ensure that we had an active fuel farm for them to use. It was concerning at times because we were working on an aging fuel farm with no redundancy," Hadwiger says. "When we finally got the new tanks online, it was a huge relief."

Because construction crews were working in and around the airport's fueling operations, coordination meetings were used to keep everyone informed. Seneca conducted two meetings weekly: One with contractors and subcontractors; the other with Prime Engineering, McClure and airport officials.

"There was active communication where we discussed progress and looked at schedules," Hadwiger recalls. "We didn't just look at activities that were going on right at that point in time. We were always looking to the future to see what was coming and to prepare for it."

Schedules were hammered out two weeks at a time to keep construction on course, he adds.

Sequencing and scheduling efforts kept the project progressing on schedule despite severe weather and change-orders. "We were able to schedule everything during normal (daytime) working hours. We haven't had to work weekends or after-hours at all," Hadwiger reports. "We had no major downtimes for the existing system, no fueling interruptions and no safety incidents. Any time we get a project completed without safety incidents, it's always a success in my eyes."

He largely attributes the project's success to the team that worked hard to ensure the project came off without a hitch. "We had an excellent team that worked really well together - from the owner all the way down to the subcontractors," he says. "That was a huge advantage for us."

Environmental Snags

Environmental issues, including soil contamination and the need to remove asbestos and lead paint, also presented extra challenges, adds Carter. "Each of these environmental issues had to be handled separately and professionally with a licensed contractor capable of satisfying all regulations regarding their specialized trade," he relates.

Engineers discovered two pockets of soil contamination during the project's design phase, notes McClure's Stephenson. Soil analysis pinpointed the first pocket four to six feet underground, and the second at 16 to 18 feet below the surface. A licensed soil removal specialist removed 500 tons of contaminated soil at the shallower depth and deposited it in a licensed landfill facility.

After construction ends, the deeper pocket of soil contamination will be removed through a process called bio-remediation, a method that uses naturally occurring microorganisms to breakdown hazardous substances into less toxic, or even non-toxic, substances. "The contractor will come in and inject the soil with 'bugs' that will eat the diesel product found in the soil to render the soil inert," Stephenson explains.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has been involved in the project since the design phase and continues to receive updates as the project continues. "The contamination was above the reportable limits but below actionable limits," reports Stephenson. "By the strictest letter, the airport didn't have to do anything about it. But the airport, in good conscience, wanted to clean the site anyway."

Compared to the soil cleanup, the other environmental issues were minor, says Stephenson. Significant prep work, however, was needed before the airport's historic fire department pump house could be remodeled into restrooms, office space and fuel testing labs. An asbestos coating on the pressure tank had to be cleaned off before crews could demolish it. And lead paint outside and inside the 1930s building had to be removed before construction could commence.

"There was considerable expense incurred to update this building," says Stephenson. "But these were challenges the airport decided to deal with and clean up."

Renovating the historic building without losing its character was "interesting and challenging" for Prime Engineering, notes Eldridge.

Material Decisions

In late July, two of the 50,000-gallon fuel tanks were online, and completion of the third fuel tank and glycol tanks was anticipated in early fall.

Although MLI initially considered stainless-steel tanks, it opted for carbon steel tanks with epoxy liners - an industry standard, according to Stephenson. The decision saved the airport about $59,000, estimates Mike Haney, MLI director of projects and construction. It will also decrease ongoing costs because carbon steel tanks don't need the exterior painting aboveground stainless-steel tanks require.

In addition, carbon steel tanks are better at keeping fuel cool, notes Stephenson. "Stainless steel is not really used for jet-A storage," he explains. "It is difficult to work with, and if any repairs are needed there are a limited number of contractors who can come out and repair them."

MLI's experience in the refueling business inspired another foray into the aircraft services sector: ground support. Working through the same limited liability corporation, the airport has been providing above- and below-wing operations to AirTran Airways, Allegiant Air and a variety of charter operators for about two years. The airport recently purchased a potable water cart, baggage carts and tug from Independence Air, and plans are in the works to add another tug, a belt loader, ground power unit and other ground support equipment.

Fuel Operations

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