Airlines need to ensure that their planes don’t run out of fuel during flight, as this could risk the lives of passengers and crew.
However, refueling an aircraft can be costly and every minute a plane is on the ground, an airline risks losing money.
This is why aircraft manufacturers and airports have developed complex systems to make refueling as quick as possible to get a plane back into the air.
We take a look at how planes get refueled and how long refueling typically takes.
How Are Planes Refueled?
To refuel a plane, airlines use two methods: ground refueling and mid-air refueling.
Midair refueling involves transferring fuel from another aircraft.
This is commonly used for fighter jets out over the water and other aircraft that can’t land.
Ground refueling involves pumping jet fuel into the tanks of an aircraft when it’s on the ground.
This is the method used for all commercial airplanes.
The process of refueling is fairly straightforward. Most planes connect in either of two ways:
- A nose/nozzle system to an open filler port which can pump 50 gallons (190 liters) per minute into the tank
- A high-pressure, sealed delivery hose which pumps 300 gallons (1135 liters) per minute into the plane’s tank
How Long Does It Take To Refuel A Plane?
The time to refuel a plane depends on what type of plane you’re flying.
Generally, airlines have tight turnaround times to get their planes back into the air.
The longer an aircraft is on the ground, the greater the chance of the airline losing money.
This is the reason why planes need to be unloaded, reloaded, and refueled as soon as possible.
To know how quickly a plane can be back in the air again, airplane manufacturers provide guidelines on turnaround times for their aircraft, depending on the fueling system used.
For example, a Boeing 747 can take around 50 minutes when fuel is delivered with a two-tank system.
Fuel Delivery Systems For Commercial Aircraft
There are three main types of systems used by commercial airlines to deliver fuel to their planes.
Underwing High-Pressure Sealed Hose
These hoses are attached to the wingtips of the aircraft via a hose setup.
The airplane has a fuel intake connector underneath each wing where the refueler can fit the nozzle.
It’s a lock fitting so that he doesn’t have to stand around waiting for the tank to be full.
This system allows the transfer of up to 300 gallons (1135 liters) of fuel per minute into the tanks.
The underwing sealed hose system was first introduced in the 1950s and is still widely used today.
Mobile Fuel Tanker Trucks
Trucks carry large containers of fuel called “fuel pods” that can hold between 10,000 and 15,000 gallons (37,500 – 55,000 liters).
They are connected to the plane via a high-pressure hose and a locking mechanism.
They can then be driven directly under the wings of the plane and positioned in the best way to fuel quickly.
Although these trucks can hold a lot of fuel, one is not big enough to provide a commercial plane with fuel.
This is the reason why many larger airports prefer using other fueling methods, such as the hydrant fuel delivery setup.
Hydrant Filler Truck
Large airports have a vast underground network of fuel pipes that run underneath taxiways.
From this network, vertical pipes are rising out of the ground.
These filling points are called hydrants. Hydrants are large metal cylinders connected to the fuel network.
The fuel is pumped from the main fuel farm which is based near the airport.
Fuel can be made available for each gate, and it’s pumped at 600-1000 gallons (2270-3775 liters) per minute.
But the aircraft cannot connect directly to these points. It needs a hydrant filler truck to get the fuel from the hydrant to the aircraft.
These trucks filter and measure the fuel transfer during the refuel. This ensures that the tank never runs dry.
Overwing Low-Pressure Delivery System
For smaller aircraft that have smaller fuel tanks, the best way to refuel is via the overwing fueling point.
The filling point for these aircraft is either at the top side of each wing, or there may even be just a single filling point.
This delivery system is a simple hose and nozzle setup, and it can feed a maximum of 50 gallons (190 liters) per minute into the aircraft tank.
This fuel delivery system is usually used for light aircraft, such as Cherokees or Cessnas.
How Many Fuel Trucks Do You Need To Refuel A Plane?
How many trucks you need for refueling an aircraft depends on how big the tanker truck is and how much fuel the plane still has left in the tank.
The majority of commercial airplanes arrive at an airport with a minimum of 10% reserve.
Even the largest aircraft can be filled with two tanker trucks in roughly an hour.
There are several other factors to consider when refueling a plane.
For example, most planes do not carry a full tank because they simply cannot carry passengers, cargo, and a full tank.
This would also impact the weight of the plane which would lead to additional fuel usage, and carrying more fuel to burn more fuel would simply be a waste of money for airlines.
Why Are Planes Not Refueled While Passengers Are Boarding?
Most airports have strict rules regarding how long planes can sit on the tarmac while passengers board.
However, usually, passengers have to wait until the plane has been refueled. This is for safety reasons.
If there was a fire on the plane, then it’s much easier to evacuate the lower number of cleaning staff than a full aircraft.
There are quite a few different types of fuel delivery systems that are used by airports around the world.
How quickly a plane can be refueled depends on the aircraft and the system that is used to transfer the fuel into the plane’s tank.