Winning combination

Aug. 1, 2002
COMBINING aircraft refueling and home heating oil delivery may seem like an unusual mix of business in most parts of the United States. However, it is

COMBINING aircraft refueling and home heating oil delivery may seem like an unusual mix of business in most parts of the United States. However, it is a perfect fit in Alaska.

Alaska Aerofuel Inc in Fairbanks has been serving those dual markets since it was established in 1982. Based at Fairbanks International Airport, Alaska Aerofuel even handles fuel shipments to remote areas of the state by aerial tanker.

“We have a business mix that keeps us busy throughout the year,” says Thomas A Murray, Alaska Aerofuel president. “Demand for heating oil is year-round in Alaska, and we specialize in difficult deliveries. The aviation fueling keeps us even busier.”

Alaska Aerofuel delivers approximately 3.5 million gallons of fuel oil annually. Through the aviation side of the business, the company sells 3.5 million gallons of aviation gas and jet fuel. Another 1.5 million gallons of refined fuels is transported under contract.

Petroleum products are transported and delivered by a fleet of approximately 30 vehicles. These include five fuel oil tankwagons, truck-and-trailer combination, a petroleum transport, 18 aircraft refuelers, and two chase trucks.

Fuel oil dominance

Fuel oil is the primary heating fuel in Alaska, and the five tankwagons handle a majority of the delivery work, especially to residential customers. Several of the larger aircraft refuelers in the fleet are configured for dual application and are converted to handle fuel oil when the heating season is at its busiest. Two transport trucks serve some of the commercial heating oil accounts within Fairbanks.

The company serves heating oil customers within a 25- to 30-mile radius of Fairbanks. Deliveries outside the city limits can be challenging no matter what time of year it may be. That's why two of the Alaska Aerofuel tankwagons have four-wheel drive.

A majority of the company's 2,700 residential customers are on will-call. Customers who run out of heating oil can get same-day delivery, but most will-call deliveries are next day.

Customers are charged a $20 reroute fee for same-day deliveries requested after 3 pm. After-hours deliveries bring a $30 call-out fee.

Alaska Aerofuel keeps a driver on call at all times for emergency heating oil deliveries. Even if a tankwagon is not available, the on-call driver will be able to provide the customer with 10 gallons of fuel oil, which should be enough to hold the customer until one of the tankwagons is available.

For the delivery drivers, ice fog is one of the biggest challenges they face during the winter. “The fog sets in when the temperature drops to around 30 below,” Murray says. “It's very dense, and the visibility is poor. It's much worse than the cold.”

Arctic equipment

Proven vehicle specifications keep the cold from being much of an issue. The tankwagons have well insulated cabs and good heaters. Arctic-level components include transmission pan and oil pan heaters, and battery heat plates. Murray believes a good air dryer is one of the most important truck components for arctic operations, and his company has standardized on Bendix units.

Two of the three smaller fuel oil delivery trucks have four-wheel drive, which enables them to reach some of the more remote locations in their delivery area. “These trucks are one reason we've been able to specialize in difficult deliveries,” Murray says.

The three primary heating oil delivery trucks have capacities of 1,800, 2,900, and 3,000 gallons. The newest of the three, the 3,000-gallon tankwagon, has an aluminum cargo tank. The two four-wheel-drive trucks have steel tanks.

Product delivery hardware is housed in cabinets at the sides and rear of the trucks to keep out road dirt, as well as snow and ice. Valves and other hardware are air-actuated wherever possible. Hardware includes Blackmer and Gorman-Rupp pumps, Liquid Controls meters with Brooks Brady registers, Hannay reels, and OPW hose nozzles.

For product delivery hose, the company has standardized on Gates Wagonmaster Super Polar Flex or its equivalent. “We believe that Gates product is the best hose on the market for our operation,” Murray says. “It's almost indestructible. We've had some of the Gates hose in service for at least 15 years. Unfortunately, it's no longer readily available. We have found a Canadian company that is making a similar product that is delivering six to seven years of good service.”

Versatility is important in the Alaska Aerofuel operations, and the fuel oil trucks can be switched to aircraft refueling during summer months. All of the aircraft refueling hardware is already in place. In addition, a number of the other tank trucks in the fleet can be shifted to fuel oil delivery as needed.

Transport trucks

These other tank trucks include two transport trucks — a Mack with a 5,000-gallon three-compartment aluminum tank and a Peterbilt with a 4,500-gallon tank. In transport activities, the Mack also pulls a 4,000-gallon pull trailer. Also part of the transport operation are a Kenworth tractor and 10,000-gallon Fruehauf trailer. All of the transport tanks are set up for bottom loading and have Scully overfill protection.

The transport units haul heating oil and jet fuel to the Alaska Aerofuel bulk plant at Fairbanks International Airport. The plant has two 12,000-gallon aboveground tanks, one dedicated to number two heating oil and one for Jet A, which is a purer grade of number one diesel.

Petroleum products marketed by Alaska Aerofuel come out of the Williams Petroleum and Petro Star refineries at North Pole, about 15 miles east of Fairbanks. Product is top- and bottom-loaded at Petro Star, but only bottom loading is available at the Williams refinery.

Besides supplying the bulk plant and delivering heating oil, the transport units also haul petroleum products that are transferred to aerial tankers that serve remote villages throughout Alaska's interior and far north. Each aerial tanker can transport 3,000 to 4,400 gallons of gasoline and heating oil.

Aircraft refuelers

Aviation refueling is another important part of the business. Eighteen of the Alaska Aerofuel tank trucks are primarily focused on aircraft refueling, and the company serves as a fixed-base operator at Fairbanks International Airport.

“We have a prime location for serving the corporate aviation market,” Murray says. “This is the halfway stop on the way to European/Asian destinations and a great port of entry for flights arriving from overseas. Our customers may stop less than 30 minutes just to refuel, or they may stay overnight.”

A corporate jet will take 2,000 to 4,000 gallons of fuel. Besides handling the fuel, Alaska Aerofuel personnel can arrange catering for the planes, hotel rooms for overnight stays, rental cars, and courtesy vans. Bedrooms and a lounge are available for pilots and other crewmembers at the Alaska Aerofuel location.

During the winter, Alaska Aerofuel is called on to provide support for cold weather testing of jet aircraft and power plants by the major aerospace manufacturers. “All aircraft must be certified for cold weather operation,” Murray says. “Fairbanks is a prime location because it offers extreme cold with little or no wind and an economical infrastructure.”

Beyond the aircraft services provided at the Fairbanks airport, Alaska Aerofuel leases out refuelers for special projects, such as forest fire fighting. Leasing customers include the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and helicopter operators that contract with fire services.

“We lease out refuelers for a variety of special projects,” Murray says. “Two of our 2,500-gallon refuelers can be used as chase trucks for refueling helicopters and other aircraft used in fighting forest fires. BLM leases eight of our trucks and positions them at various remote locations during the summer.”

Refueler flexibility

Refuelers range in capacity from 2,500 to 5,000 gallons, and about half of them are designed for over-the-road operation. “This gives us a lot more versatility,” Murray says. “We can send these trucks just about anywhere, and we can use them in other applications, such as fuel oil delivery.”

Most of the refuelers have Allison automatic transmissions for ease of operation. Cargo tanks come from several sources, including Garsite LLC and Determan Brownie Inc. Four 5,000-gallon refuelers were fabricated by Delta Fuel Industries in Delta Junction, Alaska.

Customers who need more than a refueler truck can lease on-site storage and dispensing units from Alaska Aerofuel. Four units are available, each with a 4,000-gallon capacity. Built by Greer Tank and Welding, the portable storage and dispensing systems can be used for aviation or jet fuel.

Diversity and versatility in equipment and services have been winning combinations for Alaska Aerofuel. They have helped position the company for steady growth in one of the most challenging regions of the United States.