Aviation fuel delays – How they happen and how to avoid them
In the complex and ever-changing world of business aviation, fuel is usually considered one of the least complex aspects of planning a successful mission—and that’s usually the case.
However, aviation fuel delays can and do occur, and for a variety of reasons. So…I’ve gotten together with some of my colleagues to put together some tips to help you be aware of what the pitfalls are and how to mitigate them in order to avoid an unnecessary and costly fuel delay.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Always ask how many fuel trucks are available.
Some operators are surprised to learn that certain airports, even in large international metropolises, only have one fuel truck, or only one fuel truck dedicated to GA.
- Barcelona (LEBL): prone to fuel delays as there’s only one fuel truck serving GA on the entire airport.
- Caracas (SVMI)
- Brazzaville (FCBB)
- Rio de Janeiro Santos Dumont (SBRJ)
- Sorocaba (SDCO)
2. Assume scheduled airlines take priority.
In almost every case, unless it’s a predominantly GA airfield such as Le Bourget (LFPB) or Farnborough (EGLF), air carriers always take fueling priority over GA. So, if you’re planning to depart during peak periods of scheduled commercial activity it may be best to fuel on arrival or the day before departure. At larger international locations, it’s usually recommended to avoid hydrant fueling options as this may involve potential delays and the need to be towed to a different area of the airport.
3. Watch out for peak periods.
Some high-traffic destinations, like the Caribbean and South of France, typically experience supply issues simply due to demand, particularly during peak season.
For example, fuel delays and shortages are not uncommon at St Maarten (TNCM), due to the sheer volume of traffic, limited ramp space and fuel supplies running out from time to time during the peak season.
During major local events, such as the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix, locations such as Nice (LFMN) and Cannes (LFMD) can be particularly challenging in terms of scheduling timely uplifts day of departure.
4. Be careful about selecting a fuel supplier by price alone.
Just recently, I spoke with an operator traveling to Amsterdam who used a fuel aggregator software to find the lowest price but did not realize that the fueler he chose was on the commercial ramp, requiring a multi-mile taxi. In this case, any cost savings on price were easily lost by the extra time and risk involved in the taxi.
When traveling to a new airport—especially internationally—it’s worth checking with your contract fuel provider in advance.
5. Check the ramp restrictions.
At some locations and fixed-base operators (FBOs), you may find that only certain fuel providers are permitted on particular parking ramps. You may have contract fuel set up and then find out that you’ll need to have your aircraft towed to a different ramp, or even the other side of the airport, to access your chosen fuel source. Such restrictions occur at VHHH and other locations where those who control ramp space may only allow preferred suppliers to service aircraft there.
6. Arrange credit in advance whenever able.
Uplift delays can be encountered if fuel credit arrangements have not been confirmed in advance and payment coordinated with the fuel provider. Many, but not all, international locations accept fuel and aviation credit cards along with major consumer credit cards. But, if this has not been pre-coordinated and/or approved you may need to use ground handler credit for your uplift, with admin fees applicable.
To preclude delays on the day of operation, we recommend that fuel credit arrangements always be confirmed in advance–when able.
7. Watch out for remote and challenging destinations.
Africa can be the exception when it comes to arranging credit in advance. Some airports may only accept cash for fuel uplifts. Also, they may only accept certain USD and Euro denominations and/or only recently issued notes.
There have also been instances at various locations internationally where operators were told to pay cash even when they had a pre-arranged and confirmed fuel release. You see this type of thing happen in some remote destinations or where there is political unrest.
In these cases, contact your contract fuel provider versus just placing an order through an app.
8. Consider language barriers
At some international locations, notably smaller or secondary airports, language barriers may present delay potential regarding timely fuel uplifts.
9. Watch out for strikes and political unrest, and other things that can impact supply.
This one can catch you off guard if you aren’t careful. Places you’ve been to many times, all of a sudden may have zero fuel due to a strike or something else.
For instance, you may have heard about the fuel shortages across Mexico due to the recent pipeline explosion.
10. Be aware of potential procedural and operating hour complications.
These can vary widely by location, so at new destinations, it’s always best to contact your contract fuel provider in advance. Here are some examples:
- Puerto Vallarta (MMPR) – uplifts can be delayed, or take longer than anticipated, due to local procedural requirements. If fuel is required with passengers onboard, the aircraft needs to reposition to the Aerotron ramp, not the GA ramp, in order to sidestep complications with local airport authorities.
- Nice (LFMN) – has no pipeline to the airport and all fuel is trucked in by road (but not on Sundays). Prior notification for fuel uplift at LFMN is always recommended as shortages tend to occur toward the end of the weekends.
- All across Mexico – the hours when fuel services are available may differ from airport operating hours. The Mexico national fuel supplier is closed on weekends and holidays, and this also presents complications.
- Various airports worldwide – uplifts outside of normal refueling hours can require additional fees, and can only be scheduled in advance. Besides, you’ll be hit with overtime charges.
Steps to avoid aviation fuel delays
Now that I’ve covered some of the potential pitfalls, here are the ways to mitigate the risks.
1. Get a fuel release/arrange fuel a week prior, whenever able.
Notify your fuel provider in advance of your aircraft type, registration, dates and times of operation and volume requirements. This is doubly important if you operate larger GA equipment. It’s best to organize fuel releases about one week in advance, to ensure receipt by the local supplier and a confirmation response.
And, when planning quick-turn tech stops, it’s always good practice to follow up and re-confirm the uplift with the fuel provider a day prior to refueling. Having said this, we also do not recommend requesting fuel releases too far in advance as the local fuel provider may misplace the release, causing possible day-of-operation delays.
2. Choose airports and/or ground handlers that have their own fuel trucks.
Since commercial airlines will almost always take priority over GA, one way to avoid this issue is to choose airports and ground handlers/FBOs with their own dedicated fuel trucks for GA.
Certain international airports have fuel trucks dedicated to GA. This is most common in the U.S., Canada and certain locations in Europe, such as London-Stansted Airport (EGSS).
Other examples of this occur typically where there is a steady, high-volume of GA traffic:
- Sao Paulo Guarulhos (SBGR), Petrobras has a fuel truck dedicated exclusively to GA on the GA ramp.
- Hong Kong (VHHH)
When making fuel arrangements, ask your contract fuel provider and/or your handler about your fuel truck options.
3. Avoid peak periods of commercial activity.
An effective means of mitigating fuel delay potential is to schedule quick turns, and destination stop uplifts, away from peak periods of scheduled commercial activity. This tactic can be particularly beneficial at busy Mediterranean holiday destinations where scheduled commercial fuel requirements always take precedence over GA.
4. Fuel on arrival vs departure
Fueling on arrival rather than departure is a viable strategy at high-traffic airports or during peak periods. This is particularly important when attending high-traffic events where delays and shortages are common.
5. Use an alternate airport if that’s an option and consider quick-turn tech stops
Many destinations have multiple airport options. Do your research in advance to find out the advantages/disadvantages regarding fueling, depending on your final destination and schedule.
Certain locations around the world – including Shannon (EINN), London-Stansted (EGSS), Helsinki (EFHK), Bridgetown (TBPB), and Curacao (TNCC) – have good reputations as 30-45 minute quick turn tech stops. They are particularly adept at turning around aircraft quickly as they’re 24 hours airports of entry (AOE) without overly congested ramps and with efficient support facilities/staff.
6. Lean on your contract fuel provider.
When you are traveling to familiar destinations, making reservations through an app is easy and often the way the way to go. But at new destinations, or ones that can be challenging—because of lack if infrastructure, congestion, political unrest, frequent strikes, etc.—it’s worth a quick call or email to your contract fuel provider.