Tips on contract fuel use and maximizing opportunities
Look for cost savings along with on-time delivery and high levels of service when it comes to overseas fuel uplifts.
By Grant McLaren
Always check to be sure the right fueler and fuel truck is hooking up to your aircraft per your contract fuel agreement. It's also recommended to be diligent in verifying fuel ticket details prior to signing.
Fuel uplifts in the international operating arena may be a somewhat unexciting routine but they can make or break a trip.
When things go wrong, a delayed fuel uplift may frustrate a closely scheduled international mission. With effective preplanning, however, overseas fuel uplifts can represent one of the most significant controllable cost savings available while away from base.
While most operators take advantage of the benefits of contract fueling—to both save costs and confirm credit at a location—there are pros and cons to consider. A successful contract fuel experience has to do with both pricing and service.
While a particular contract fuel price may seem attractive at a certain location it may kick in delays and require repositioning your aircraft to the commercial side of the field pre-departure. On the other hand, fueling at an FBO or handler base, with no advance planning, may set you up to pay a higher than necessary fuel price.
"All contract fuel programs are not the same," says UVair Senior VP Greg Cox. "You want to make sure you have the best fuel supply partner and it's important to consider both price and service. The object is to secure the best fuel price you can at a particular location while ensuring timely and accurate service. The last thing most operators want is to jeopardize the customer experience, and delay passengers in the back as a result of a delayed fuel uplift."
Still, contract fuel savings can represent significant operator cost savings—ranging from 5¢ to over $2 per gallon—and there's usually no better way to control costs on the road than by prearranging contract fuel uplifts.
"Contract fuel savings vary by location but it's not uncommon to save over $1 a gallon," says ARINC Mgr Contract Fuel Dale Krupla. "We have one customer, for example, who's saved an average of 80¢ a gallon, month in and month out [for years] by taking advantage of contract fuel uplifts."
Not all contract fuel providers at a location will give you the same, or close to the same, pricing. "I've seen as much as 75¢ a gallon differences between contract fuel pricing at the same location, using the same fuel company and the same fuel truck," says Intl Trip Planning Service (ITPS) COO Phil Linebaugh. "You need to do your due diligence pretrip to obtain the best contract fueling outcomes."
Welcome to the world of contract fuel
Contract fuel usually involves preauthorized fuel programs where fuel prices are coordinated with fuel suppliers in advance at lower than posted pricing. Some programs are aviation fuel card based, others are based on preissued fuel releases and many are a combination of the two.
At some locations simply presenting an aviation fuel card will give you credit and a prenegotiated contract price. At other international locations, particularly more remote areas, you'll need to carry a fuel release and 24, 48 or even 72 hrs' advance notification to obtain best contract fuel pricing.
Fifty years ago international operators carried suitcases of cash in order to pay for fuel uplifts overseas. Back then, says Cox, international service providers (ISPs) began working with multinational oil companies to set up fuel credit at many overseas locations.
Avfuel offers domestic and international contract fuel services to a worldwide customer base. Online fuel quotes are possible for most international locations.
"In those days the emphasis was mostly on credit and convenience rather than fuel savings," he says. "Over 30 years ago we set up our 1st fuel card program and these cards evolved over the years to be accepted—for both fuel credit and discount pricing—at more than 4000 worldwide locations today."
Contract fuel technology has come a long way over recent years says Krupla. "Operators can go online to look up contract fuel pricing and compare quotes from multiple providers," he says. "There is also 'push technology' where a flight department's scheduling software will reach out to websites of various suppliers and brokers to obtain real time pricing and push it to your particular schedule and planned fuel stops.
If you have HNL (Honolulu, Oahu HI) on your itinerary your scheduling program may be able to reach out and obtain supplier quotes for best contract fuel prices on your planned day of operation."
Linebaugh recommends carrying multiple aviation fuel cards and obtaining several contract fuel quotes pretrip. "Confirm fuel prices about a week in advance of your trip," he says, "and make sure you're comparing apples to apples with quotes—with all applicable taxes, delivery and airport fees included.
It's important to organize contract fuel uplifts in advance with your ISP, local ground handler and destination fuel supplier to confirm that everything is coordinated and that the fuel truck will show up on time."
If you're going to a destination that requires a fuel release it's important to arrange this with appropriate advance notice says Krupla. "In Spain, for example, contract fuel releases can only be set up during business hours.
If you forward a fuel release request in the middle of the night and show up at 6:00 am there's a good chance you will not get fuel as the fueler will not have received authorization from the state fuel agency. It's always best to give a copy of your fuel release to your ground handler and to ask the local fueler for confirmation that the request has been received."
It is not uncommon for the wrong fuel truck to hook up and attempt to start fueling you says Linebaugh. "Always verify that the fueler that shows up is one on your fuel release and confirm that they'll accept your contract payment arrangements. If the wrong truck hooks up and fuels the aircraft you may end up paying posted price with a consumer credit card. The last thing you want is to be faced with a fueler brawl out there on the ramp as passengers arrive."
Be aware of fueling restrictions at particular FBOs and GA terminals as to who may fuel an aircraft on their ramp. Some FBOs with their own fuel trucks do not allow competing fuelers onto their ramps.
Always check on this in advance to avoid having to reposition for fuel or having to pay ramp fees at 2 FBOs if you're parking and fueling at different facilities.