How is an aircraft refueled? Here are the facts

People & Aviation
4.11.2016 - 12:00
Aircrafts at Helsinki Airport are refueled in a matter of minutes.

All of us know how to go about fueling up a car at the gas station, but how many could perform the same task on an airplane?

Head of Operations at Air BP Thomas Bergman, gives us the facts and figures.

1. Aircrafts at Helsinki-Vantaa are refueled with Jet A-1 kerosene

Instead of using petrol, aircrafts use kerosene which resembles diesel in terms of its make-up and capacities.

Kerosene suits planes because it as a suitably low freezing point, a high energy content and is relatively cheap. Kerosene is also available worldwide.

“Commercial aircrafts are all refueled with Jet A-1 kerosene. There is also another airport in Helsinki from where aviation fuel is available, but it is meant for light aircrafts,” says Bergman.

2. The aircraft’s fuel-tanks are located on each wing

Refueling takes place once the arriving passengers have vacated the aircraft, and before the departing passengers board.

The maintenance companies at Helsinki-Vantaa, which include Air BP, Neste and Shell, operate ‘low-riding’ fuel-trucks. Once parked, trucks park under the wing of the aircraft. The fuel-tanks are pretty much always situated in the wings of the aircraft.

“The driver of the fuel-truck uses the elevation mechanism of the truck’s cabin to station themselves next to the fuel-tank. The driver then attaches the fuel hose and begins refueling,” Bergman narrates.

3. Refueling can happen at a rate of 2400 liters per minute

The rates and speeds at which refueling happens at airports are sky-high compared to those at a gas station. A standard refueling for a continental flight departing from Helsinki-Vantaa lasts roughly between 15 and 20 minutes, during which tens of thousands of liters of fuel is pumped into the aircraft.

“The standard speed at which an aircraft is refueled is 1000 liters per minute. Wide-body aircrafts can be refueled with two hoses simultaneously, pumping over 2000 liters per minutes,” Bergman says.

4. The amount of fuel is measured to last one flight

The fuel consumption of an aircraft depends on the type of aircraft in question, the altitude which it will fly at, its destination and the duration of the flight.

“Aircrafts are usually fueled to last a single flight, in order to keep them as light as possible. For shorter flights, enough fuel to last the round-trip might be pumped. A typical refueling at Helsinki-Vantaa is usually around 10,000 liters. For a longer flight, for example from Helsinki to New York, 60.000-70,000 liters will be pumped,” Bergman affirms.

5. Quality and safety are essential

Different airlines have agreements with specific suppliers. Between themselves, 3 fuel providers refuel roughly 250 aircrafts a day at Helsinki-Vantaa.

According to Bergman, the quality of the fuel and the safety of the fueling process itself are of utmost importance.

“The fuel-truck must be connected to the aircraft, matching its electrostatic potential, so that the fueling rates don’t cause an electrostatic discharge in the piping,” Bergman says.

Need to refuel your car at the Helsinki airport?