For the aviation industry, second to the aircraft itself, fuel is keeping pilots and passengers safely in the air. This means that the quality of the aviation fuel powering the pistons or turbines needs to receive the same stringent assessment as the aircraft before taking to the skies.
Aviation fuel is a highly specialised category of petroleum-based fuel designed specifically for aircraft use. There are two types of aviation fuel:
- Avgas (aviation gasoline) for use in aircraft with piston engines.
- Jet A1 for use in aircraft with turbine engines and newer jet-cycle engines.
In aviation, fuel quality is paramount to ensuring the safe operation of an aircraft. While it may sound simple, there have been many stories told of aircraft that have malfunctioned due to fuel contamination.
Many factors contribute to fuel contamination. These contaminants can impact an aircraft and ground fuel storage system through corrosion, disarming fuel filters, failure of the aircraft fuel system and potential shutdown of the engines mid-flight through the incorrect grade of fuel.
What contaminates fuel?
One of the primary reasons that fuel may be contaminated is exposure to foreign soap agents (surfactants), sediment, particulate matter, bacterial growth, other petroleum products, and water. Water is the most common contaminant as it is present in the air resulting in potential condensation in the fuel tanks.
If water is present in the Jet A1, there is the risk that ice crystals may form at high altitudes and block the flow of fuel to the engine, shutting them down mid-flight. It may also corrode steel over time and create an environment conducive to the growth of bacteria and fungi that grow at the interface of the fuel and water, and can block fuel filters.
During storage, fuel may be contaminated by wind blowing sand or dirt into the tank vent openings particularly in dusty environments. Fuel may also be contaminated with rust, metal shavings, and general wear and tear releasing rubber or plastic particulates from the tank’s infrastructure components.
Other contamination may be via soapy compounds (surfactants) which could be introduced via the refining process, in the pipeline or via cross-contamination through load switching.
How do you maintain the quality of the fuel?
To circumvent any fuel contamination and uphold the fuel quality from the terminal to the aircraft, there are several measures that may be put into place.
Maintaining fuel quality during transport
IOR transports truckloads of aviation fuel every day. To eliminate the risk of contamination during transport, IOR coordinates a fleet of trucks dedicated to either Avgas or Jet A1. When filling the barrel before transport, a check for key quality indicators is completed by our team. This includes checks for contamination, colour, temperature, clarity, and density with each test result compared to the Batch details supplied by the filling terminal. The truck is filled via a specialised aviation fuel filter that stops any particles, down to 0.5 microns in size, from entering the barrel.
Additionally, IOR applies a zero-tolerance policy for load-switching which prevents any contamination with another product.
All filtration systems fitted to IOR refuellers, trucks and airport fixed facilities are compliant to the current standard set out in JIG 4 and are tested by qualified staff.
Preventing contamination when filling storage tanks and drums
Filling modern storage tanks
During the refuel of a storage tank, the same measures are used when preparing the fuel for transport. The delivery driver will conduct quality checks including an assessment for contamination, fuel colour, temperature, clarity, and density. The fuel is then loaded into the storage tank via a complaint Aviation filter.
Filling fuel drums
Before filling a fuel drum, we check for several criteria that indicate whether or not the drum is fit for purpose. These criteria include:
- Only aviation drums will be filled (no chemical, lubricants or ground fuel drums) and only the correct product (as marked on the original drum stencilling) can be delivered into the drum. This prevents the switch filling of drums and possible incorrect identification of the product in the drums after filling
- If the drums cannot be inspected on the Customer’s vehicle they must first be removed to allow a full inspection of each drum. The empty drums that have been accepted must then be returned to the vehicle to avoid the need to handle full drums
- Prior to filling, drums are internally inspected with the aid of a flameproof torch(1).
- Small dents that have not resulted in significant creases in the drum body are acceptable however any excessive denting that has resulted in heavy creases in the drum body or damage to the chines, flanges or rolling hoops are causes for rejection
- Expansion of drums tops and bottoms and any damage to bungs is a reason for rejection
- Examining the condition of the internal lining. Scratches are cause for rejection as it may result in lifting of the lining or sections of the lining coming free of the drum surface. Light scuffing of the lining is acceptable. Any rusting inside the drum is cause for the drum to be rejected
- Look for the presence of any contamination with particulate matter or water. Drums must not be filled if they contain any particulate material or are wet
- To avoid partially empty drums, the remaining product in the drums should be removed and downgraded
If the fuel drum shows any of these signs, then the best course of action is to look at purchasing a new drum.
Industry-standard checks for fuel quality
At each location in the IOR Aviation Network, IOR conducts checks as per the industry standards. (JIG 4) This check includes monitoring and assessing the fuel for:
- Colour and clarity
- Water presence
Checking fuel before refuelling your aircraft
Before you refuel your aircraft from a drum or your own tank, it is imperative that you conduct your own check of the fuel’s quality. You should take a fuel sample to confirm its specifications comply with those approved by CASA and take care when handling fuel drums.
Keen to know more?
As a 100% Australian owned and operated aviation fuel supplier, IOR can provide you and your team with specialised training on how to store and handle your aviation fuel. IOR is also able to conduct aviation approved audits and inspections of your aviation fuel storage facility and equipment.
Contact us today on 1300 457 467 or email [email protected].
1 The inspection does not imply that IOR Aviation is responsible for the condition of the drum. The drum ownership remains with the Customer at all times