How does refueling at airports work?

February 5, 2017 By Airline Ticket Centre

The refueling process is a bit different at every airport. The types and frequency of aircraft served, proximity to fuel delivery systems, environmental considerations, and–most importantly–safety all determine the facilities that an airport chooses to build. I recommend Craig Good‘s answer for a more detailed look at OAK and the facilities it uses for refueling. This answer is a more general overview.

The three major parts of the refueling process are:

  1. Delivering fuel
  2. Storing fuel

A handy graphic from In-Line Turbidity Meters –

Delivering fuel
An airport can receive fuel directly through a pipeline, from tanker trucks, from rail tanks, or from marine vessels. The process of receiving fuel is standardized to ensure safety, and it depends on the type of fuel being transferred.

Fuel types include Jet A (US commercial standard), Jet A-1 (commercial standard in the rest if the world), Jet B (used to ensure cold weather performance), and Avgas (used by small aircraft).  As a few other answers here have stated, private/military aircraft have fuel delivery processes that don’t necessarily match the ones commercial airlines use.

Storing fuel
Airports typically have “fuel farms” consisting of storage tanks, which can be above or below ground.

Delivering fuel
Delivery to aircraft can occur via fueling trucks or a hydrant fueling system. Hydrant fueling systems pump fuel directly from the fuel farm to the aircraft in underground pipes, which is much more operationally efficient and environmentally beneficial than using refueling trucks. These systems are costly. When DFW upgraded their hydrant fuel system in 2001, the project cost over $21 million. Only larger, busier airports with significant fueling needs are likely to invest in this type of system.

Airports function as a set of systems, and every system is tailored for the individual airport’s specific needs. Fueling is no different.