Fuel for thought

Fuel for thought

Have you ever wondered how an aeroplane is refuelled? Or maybe you’ve looked out of your cabin window as you cruise at an altitude of 10 000 m, seen the on-wing fuel tanks, and wondered what manner of SHEQ needs to be taken into account while those thousands of litres are pumped in (and around) at your local airport?

Willem Goosen, fuel depot manager at Lanseria International Airport, makes it clear that there is far more to it than just plugging in the fuel nozzle and waiting for the tanks to fill up. For starters, all the necessary checks have to be done to ensure that the aircraft is safe to refuel and the equipment is working properly.

The Lanseria fuel depot department comprises 30 workers, including two supervisors, who are responsible for the refuelling, servicing, supervising and general upkeep of equipment.

Safety is a top priority, says Goosen, who has been in the business for 25 years and at the airport for the past five. “We insist the guys always wear their personal protective clothing, which comprises gloves, overalls, goggles and safety boots.”

To further enhance safety and, most importantly, efficiency in the transfer of fuel to the aircraft, Lanseria installed a state-of-the-art fuel hydrant line in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup.

This line, which was first subject to an environmental impact assessment by firm Kantey and Templer consulting engineers, stretches 400 m from the depot along the airport apron, and was upgraded to allow for increased fuel demand during the soccer tournament. A massive amount of jet fuel was used in June and July 2010 alone and, since then, volumes have increased.  

Obviously, greater on-site activity and higher volumes mean increased risk from fire. Lanseria’s fire fighting department (which we recently reviewed as part of a profile of its training operations) is alert and ready with a variety of safety equipment.

Water cooling rings on the vertical tanks and top and bottom bund foam pourer systems have been installed. These systems are put through frequent and stringent tests. For example the sprinkler system on the gantry (which sprays both water and foam) is tested every week. Similarly, the three foam cannons in the depot are tested quarterly and fire hoses are tested annually at a pressure of 2 000 kPa.

To further emphasise the importance of ongoing safety and inspection measures, Goosen stresses that Lanseria adheres strictly to the Joint International Guidelines/Group (JIG), which keeps every aspect of Lanseria’s fuel supply operations in line with stringent international regulations.

JIG also conducts a thorough international inspection every year, in addition to three local inspections by Petro Assist, an expert in fuel dispensing equipment.

Goosen states that dealing with such quantities of fuel, especially in and around a public environment, is not a simple task that can be taken lightly. He and his team at Lanseria realise this, and while they’re certainly experts in their field, they have a little bit of SHEQ-expertise in them too.

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