Texas Helps General Aviation Airports Upgrade Fuel Systems

Victoria Soukup Jensen
Published in: 

Project: Fuel System Design/Assistance Program

Administered by: Aviation Division, TX Dept. of Transportation

Funding: FAA Block Grants

Who Benefits: Gen. Aviation Airports throughout TX

Participants to Date: 6

Total Funds Awarded: $3+ million

Pending Requests: 6

Sample Participants: Cleveland Municipal Airport; Victoria Regional Airport

Engineering Firm: Argus Consulting

System Types: Avgas & Jet-A for delivery to parked aircraft; Avgas self-service

Tank Sizes: 6,000 - 20,000 gal.

Tank/Skid Mfr.: Bassco Self-Serve

Fueling Terminal: QT Technologies

Program Strategy: Qualifying airports tailor template fuel system designs to their specific sites. Using a template saves design, installation & maintenance expenses. Overall project cost split is 75% TxDOT, 25% airport.

Airport Manager Alf Vien snagged a major bargain for Cleveland Municipal Airport before he retired earlier this year. The single-runway nontowered Texas airport recently installed a new fuel system, complete with a 6,000- gallon above- ground Avgas tank and self-service pumps, for $200,000; but Vien spent only $50,000 of municipal funds to purchase it. A program administered by Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) provided the $150,000 difference.

With Vien's initial research indicating a new system could have easily cost $500,000, the airport's bill for $50,000 was relatively painless - especially since maintaining its aging 10,000-gallon underground tank was becoming increasingly painful. "It was getting very old (30+ years), and we were starting to have trouble getting equipment such as pumps for it," he recalls. "It was time to upgrade."

The small airport, however, could not afford to shoulder the cost of a new system by itself. Visiting nearly 20 other Texas airports left Vien discouraged about prevailing prices for a replacement system; so he was elated to learn about the state-run grant program. "By keeping the costs down, it was affordable for both the city of Cleveland and TxDOT," he explains.

After running the airport and its fixed-base operation for 27 years, Vien is thrilled with Cleveland Municipal's new system and predicts it will make the facility more competitive for local fuel sales. The self-serve equipment and aboveground tank literally brought the airport into the 21st century, he notes. Crews completed the installation in mid-February.

Communal Designs

The TxDOT program that enabled the transformation at Cleveland Municipal uses FAA block grants and a set of shared system designs to defray the cost of fueling infrastructure upgrades at the state's general aviation airports. The program covers 75% of design and construction expenses; qualifying airports/municipalities pay 25%.

To date, Texas has spent slightly more than $3 million and improved six airports via the program, reports Greg Miller, planning and programming director of TxDOT's Aviation Division. Last year was the program's most active, he adds, with four projects completed. Requests from six airports are currently being evaluated.

By providing fuel system templates for use by general aviation facilities throughout the state, TxDOT defrays the cost for individual airports, Miller explains. Designs include receiving, storage and distribution equipment specifications for Jet-A and Avgas systems. "There are things that are common to all the systems, so you don't have to start over with each airport," Miller relates. "Smaller general aviation airports are given the opportunity to upgrade their aircraft fueling facilities by getting involved with a contractor to install an engineered system, which can be faster and cheaper than if they did it on their own."

Adaptations to the standard designs are made to accommodate specific needs and conditions at each airport. Beginning with a template, however, streamlines the process, notes Miller.

TxDOT hired Argus Consulting, an engineering firm that specializes in complex petroleum systems, to develop its system standards and subsequently design the shared templates. The firm's previous experience spans commercial, military, general aviation and railroad fuel systems and includes work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command.

After completing a comprehensive analysis, including code and hydraulic reviews, Argus developed three fuel system designs, explains Dan Frank, PE, vice president of engineering at Argus.

Two of the systems - one for Jet-A, another for Avgas - are designed to load refueling trucks that deliver fuel to parked aircraft. The third is an unattended, self-serve Avgas system that pilots operate. All three employ aboveground, shop-fabricated tanks; tank capacities range from 6,000 to 20,000 gallons.

Argus engineers designed the pumping/filtration and dispensing systems as pre-manufactured skids to reduce costs and on-site construction time. The systems are also designed to save airports money by minimizing future maintenance costs. Argus' extensive aviation experience and code knowledge help ensure quality and reliability, Frank notes.

"With the development of the standards and our specifications, everyone gets a safe system - a system that's going to function for a number of years," he adds.

Victory in Victoria

The $1 million fuel system at Victoria Regional Airport (VCT), southwest of Houston, is one of the program's largest installations. The system, which supports traffic for four runways and a helipad, includes a 20,000-gallon Jet-A tank and 12,000-gallon Avgas self-service system that allows pilots to purchase fuel with credit cards. Both systems included transport unloading and refueler loading skids, as well as fencing, roadways for transporting fuel and a spill-containment basin.

"We definitely would not have been able to do this without TxDOT's assistance," notes Airport Manager Jason Milewski. "Financially, it would have been cost-prohibitive."

A lack of replacement parts was making it difficult to keep VCT's previous 25-year-old equipment operational. "When our fuel system would go down, it cost the airport quite a lot of money in lost revenue," explains Milewski. "And we consistently - and constantly - had operational issues."

The airport, which averages 60,000 takeoffs and landings each year, values the financial and logistic support provided by the program. The grant allowed VCT to increase its fueling capacity while replacing aging underground tanks with aboveground equipment. TxDOT's hands-on assistance reduced the everyday strains of infrastructure improvements. "They actually managed the entire project," Milewski says. "It's been fantastic. We're used to doing everything ourselves. This allows us to focus our resources elsewhere."

A Texas Tradition

TxDOT determines which airports qualify for assistance by analyzing the "business argument" behind each facility's request, explains Miller. Aviation Division personnel review runways, taxiways and other basic infrastructure in addition to balancing revenue potential with startup and maintenance costs. The ultimate goal is to predict how much a new system will help each facility's bottom line.

"It (the new fuel system) produces revenue for the airport, which is what we want to support," Miller says. "We'd like to see the airports maintain the system and use it to support and promote their facility."

Once an airport receives the initial go-ahead from TxDOT, Argus completes a site survey, conceptual design, preliminary engineering report and cost estimate. After final approval is secured, the firm then develops a more detailed design that includes spill-containment specifications, electrical power, drainage, roadways, security and other site-specific elements. An open bid process is used to select contractors, and Argus makes site visits and reviews compliance submittals during construction to ensure installations meet original design standards.

The program's benefits and results warrant its cost, says Miller. "It helps the whole community when you develop a more sustainable level for a general aviation airport," he explains.

David Fulton, TxDOT Aviation Division director, connects airport improvements to the state's overall economic growth, noting that more jobs are being created each year in Texas than in all other 49 states combined.

"Texas is the fastest growing state in the nation," Fulton says. "We are committed to continuing to improve Texas airports to ensure that companies using business aviation have the access and facilities necessary to support future economic growth."

The sentiment and proactive approach are nothing new, adds Miller. During the past two decades, the state has spent more than $1 billion improving its 278 general aviation airports, he reports. Projects included runway repairs, taxiway upgrades, installation of navigational aids and the construction of aprons, hangars, terminal buildings and control towers.

"We've worked hard to help improve the airports in the last 20 years," he says. "Once the airside needs are met, the next phase of development at an airport may be to sell fuel so it's a one-stop proposition for pilots."

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