In the global aviation space, fuel contamination and fuel quality are areas of growing concern. Some instances of aircraft fuel contamination can keep aircraft grounded for weeks on end.
Not only does the aircraft owner have to pay for the contamination to be mitigated, but the downtime of this aircraft can result in huge losses in revenue, and present logistical difficulties depending on the scale and resources of the operation.
With the growing global economy and technological advancements, airlines are increasing flight frequencies in areas around the globe. Some of the countries do not have the same stringent regulations around the refinement and transfer/transportation of fuel.
Because of these lapses, aircrafts refueling in these areas are more likely to be loaded with contaminated fuel. Oftentimes, the fuel contamination may go unnoticed initially, and it is not until the aircraft experiences unusual performance that operators will realize the possibility of an issue. The effects of fuel contamination can prove to be very costly.
Airport fuels are typically stored in aboveground storage tanks. In the United States, each state has their own regulations around the construction and use of these storage tanks Some sites do have belowground tanks as well.
Just as with any bulk fuel supply, it is important to regularly test the fuel for various types of fuel contamination.
This could be in the form of water, ferrous metals (from rusting storage tanks), other particulates, other fuel types, and also microbial growth.
Water can be introduced into fuel in a few different ways. Regardless of how the water is introduced into the fuel supply, it must be mitigated quickly to stop the further development of microbial growth.
Microbial growth describes the bacteria and fungi that proliferate in the area where the layer of water meets the fuel. This acts as an energy source for microbial growth, and as they feed on it they produce a sludge that can clog fuel filters, damage fuel injection systems, and more.
Various particulates, such as ferrous metals and rust, can be introduced into a fuel tank through either the manufacturing process or over time through the deterioration of the inside of the tank because of the presence of contaminants such as water.
It is not unlikely that the fuel supply could contain other forms of petroleum fuel from the fuel supply chain, which could cause operational issues if found in high concentration.
To best protect the fuel, it is important to implement a thorough fuel quality and maintenance schedule that will allow operators to catch contamination issues early.
This helps aircraft operators to better plan a mitigation strategy that makes sense for their unique circumstances.
An adequate fuel maintenance plan includes frequent sampling and testing as well as periodic fuel tank cleaning.