79th IATA FUEL FORUM IN NEW ORLEANS: The Jet Fuel Industry in the Big Easy

Whether you drawl it out as N’Awlins, call it the Crescent City or the Big Easy, New Orleans is different. From Creole food, thru Jazz played live by old timers in Preservation Hall, to the sleezy nite life of Bourbon Street, the city which names its airport after Louis Armstrong has it all.

And so it was that the 79th IATA Fuel Forum took place in NO last week. Once again it was a sell-out event; the faded art deco elegance of the Roosevelt Hotel provided the perfect juxtapose for an introspective industry at the cutting edge and facing new challenges with vigor.

Attendances at the formal sessions were good right through to the close, although the nooks and crannies of the hotel’s various bars and coffee shops were where the real business was being done.

In his opening remarks Hemant Mistry thanked the sponsors, and included the usual goodbyes and recognitions for long membership of the Forum. In a country which describes its sports with more stats than any other, a quick survey showed that many delegates were at a fuel forum for the first time and that most had still to rack up double digit attendances.

The conference opened with a compelling session on cyber security from David DeWalt. A true expert in security advisory at the highest levels in government, and with several security start-ups to his name, he imparted some quite chilling information on recent corporate breaches. Only those who felt sufficiently robust made it to the first coffee break without checking their firewalls.

Day 1 continued with topics on climate change – this was ahead of the Sustainable Fuel Symposium at the end of the week, and showed that SAF and climate change are now mainstream. For the first time in the writer’s memory, the term “flight shaming” was heard at an AFF. After a summer of climate protests in Europe – and notwithstanding whether extinction of the human race can be influenced by how much we fly or what is used to propel flight – it is inescapable that those of us who have to fly on business, or choose to fly for pleasure, may be forced to justify our actions. Some food for thought for all.

The official Fuel Forum dinner was a networking event, held across the road from the conference hotel in the historic Orpheum Theater. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was severely damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and the associated levee failure floodwaters. After a $13 million renovation it is now the home of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Less highbrow than a full orchestral performance, the sounds of big band and jazz serenaded the conference delegates – whilst the pace of networking showed no signs of slowing.

Bright and early on Day 2 and from this point onwards, the forum started to diverge into the various interest groups. Whilst still being fleet of foot, once again your correspondent could only be in one conference room at a time. Therefore, the following coverage is a personal record only (with apologies for any inadvertent omissions).

The day started with discussion in the Technical Fuel Group (TFG) on human factors, and how communication between humans is very little to do with the spoken word, and much more to do with tone (40 %) and body language (50%). With this in mind, it is easy to see how day-to-day fuelling activities (often using radio coms) in high noise situations can be compromised.

Hydrant system design, construction and commissioning was again a feature of the meeting – and quite rightly so given the importance of this mode of aircraft fuelling at major airports, and the risks if things go wrong. Current changes to into-plane fuelling filtration (with the imminent withdrawal of filter monitors) mean that no less than before, hydrant systems must be 100% reliable. There can be no place for the type of situation so often portrayed in presentations to date – an open end of hydrant pipe under construction being inundated with flood water.

The panel session held in the second part of the morning aimed to stop poor practice and enshrine best practice. John Pitts of eJet International along with presenters from Geneva and the new Istanbul international airports and the US scene outlined their project experience and gave their views on what best practice meant in terms of design, construction, commissioning – and the contracts which underpin these activities. Pitts was emphatic that inexperienced parties must not be involved hydrant system developments at airports; and with the increasing involvement of airports in projects, poor procedures in procurement (e.g. state tender boards awarding construction contracts simply on lowest price) must be stopped. It was encouraging that TFG agreed to set up a task force to examine best practice and move this item forward.

The day continued with interesting papers on Mexico (where the market is liberalising and there has been a recent migration from Jet A-1 to Jet A) and on refining – in CFG there was a good session moderated by Jonathan Pardoe which included updates on Delta’s growing experience as a refiner at its Trainer Refinery.

Filtration is a vital part of all jet fuel supply chains, and in the light of the well-publicised SAP issues, the industry has taken responsible actions. However there is considerable concern that by the time that the filter monitor standard (EI 1583) is withdrawn, many operators will not have transitioned away to replacement filtration methods because they have not allowed sufficient time to re-equip.

Industry reports dominated TFG on the third and final day, and there was interesting examination of the jet fuel infrastructure in North America in the commercial sessions. Capacity and ageing issues in the US not only concern on-airport fuel farms (where access to low cost finance by airline consortia should facilitate investment), but also upstream supply pipelines – where there are also growing challenges due to reduced sulfur levels in ground fuels and consequences for transmix resulting from Jet A shipments.

Informally, it was felt that delegates had enjoyed the event and had found it useful. The world’s jet fuel industry will next meet in May 2020 when the Fuel Forum reconvenes in Berlin.

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