NATA Fights Fuel Farm Modifications

 - February 17, 2021, 10:05 AM
NATA hopes to overturn the NFPA's mandate for the equipage of fuel farm automatic shutdown systems, a move that it says is redundant and will add thousands of dollars of unneeded costs to companies that are already feeling the pinch from the Covid pandemic.

With the public comment window on the National Fire Protection Association’s changes to NFPA 407 Standard for Aircraft Fuel Servicing now open, NATA is urging the industry to support its Tentative Interim Amendment (TIA) 1558, which calls for the removal of requirements for automatic shutdown systems at all airport loading racks that are compatible with mobile refuelers. In 2017, NFPA created a revision to 407, giving the industry five years to comply with a requirement for automatic shutdown systems that can communicate with the sensor modules on the refuelers.

“It kind of flew under the radar,” said Steve Berry, NATA’s manager of fuel quality and safety. “A lot of people weren’t aware of it until it came to our attention mid-last year, and we started to looking into it and seeing how we can work with the technical committee to come to a reasonable solution.”

This revision—for those jurisdictions that follow NFPA 407—calls for the retrofitting of each fuel rack where refuelers are loaded from the fuel farm with an additional safeguard system, as well as sensor modules for each refueller, which could result in tens of thousands of dollars in upgrade costs for fuel farm operators. NATA continues to argue that there is no body of data in the form of bottom-loading refueller spill accidents to support the mandate. It has discussed the situation with fuel suppliers and major FBO chains, which agree that, with the current requirements and equipment, there is no problem.

“For years, fuel trucks have been required to have high-level shutoff systems on them, and they work quite well,” Berry told AIN. “They have what they call a pre-check function that allows you to test the high-level shutoff of the truck at the start of the bottom loading operation. It’s an operational procedure that everyone is aware of.”

Berry noted that the additional automatic shutdown systems being urged are primarily used at large terminals where road-worthy tanker trucks are filled. Those tankers generally do not have the same levels of protection as airport refuellers, and the systems would be redundant. “We’re trying to dial back this additional safety feature that isn’t really necessary to begin with because there is no data or evidence that shows airports are overflowing fuel trucks at such a rate to require these types of systems,” he said. “If you had statistical data that said fuel trucks are being overfilled at X rate, and that this is a major problem, we wouldn’t be fighting this.”

If the TIA is not accepted, the new requirements would take effect on June 2, and Berry estimates that less than 10 percent of general aviation operators have already performed the upgrades. NATA is advising FBOs and other fuel farm operators to contact their local authority to request an exemption to the revision of 407 based on evidence of their systems and protocols already in place, or at the very least discuss an extension if it will be enforced.

The comment period closes on March 17 and NATA suggests that all stakeholders express their thoughts on the matter via email.