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As I am sitting on board my plane and have been informed that there may be a three-hour delay due to a pressure problem in the fuelling system at the destination, it seems like an appropriate moment to ask: how do these systems at large airports (in this case, Amsterdam Schiphol) work?

Apparently, it is an airport-wide problem affecting all flights that need refuelling.

  • How and where is fuel stored?
  • How is it delivered to the aircraft?
  • What sort of technical problem with pressure could affect an entire airport the size of Schiphol?
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    $\begingroup$ Amazingly enough, fuel is delivered to Schiphol, Brussels or Frankfurt via the CEPS, an old 5,000 km NATO pipeline connected to ports all over Europe. $\endgroup$ – mins May 18 '17 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @mins: And weird: DUS, Germany's 3rd largest airport after FRA and MUC, gets its fuel delivered by about 120 trucks a day... And this, though the airport has two train stations, and tracks to the fuel tanks. They are going to switch to train about now... $\endgroup$ – sweber May 19 '17 at 4:59
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To complement the other answers with pictures:

enter image description here
(Source)

Both systems shown above work well for big airports. The system depicted at the bottom is called a Hydrant Fueling System.

enter image description here
(Source)

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For Amsterdam, fuel is stored in several large above ground tanks (which can be seen from quite a distance away) and maybe some underground tanks as well. From there it is pumped into a system of underground pipes to the refueling pits at the aircraft parking spots around the terminal (and to points from where fuel trucks can be reloaded).

Fuel is thus (depending on the location where the aircraft is parked) loaded either through fuel trucks or using hoses hooked up between the aircraft and the fuel pits (there are special trucks for this containing the connectors and control systems, delivery counters, etc.).

What could affect the entire airport? Blockage at a few key points, failure to get tankers in to replenish the supply, several vital pumps failing together.

More likely it was a localised problem at your ramp, but due to heavy traffic no fuel trucks were available to refuel you by trucking in fuel from elsewhere on the airport.

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    $\begingroup$ "More likely it was a localised problem at your ramp" No, because the asker was told that the fueling system had failed at his destination airport, not at the departure airport. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby May 18 '17 at 8:06
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby misread that, seems weird though that a departure is delayed due to a problem with a fuel truck at the destination (unless the destination is somewhere far away from anywhere and you couldn't divert to get fuel on the trip back if things went ape). $\endgroup$ – jwenting May 18 '17 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting --- they'd have to redo a bunch of numbers back @ dispatch as they'd then be tankering fuel for at least one leg $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject May 18 '17 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ As indicated in the question, the issue was at the destination airport, and was a pressure problem affecting all of Schiphol. We were informed that landing slots were unavailable because space for parking had run out. $\endgroup$ – Daniele Procida May 20 '17 at 6:11
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At Frankfurt/Main airport there is no fuel carried over the airfield to (larger) aircrafts.

There is a pipeline system in the floor and the Trucks only carry a pump and a hose to connect the plane with the fuel pipeline.

Maybe your target airport has a similar fuel distribution system that failed somehow...

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    $\begingroup$ Amsterdam indeed has just that, and a few small trucks to service places like the GA ramp and the police helicopter ramp where the aircraft don't tend to have standardised connectors for the high pressure fuel systems used by airliners. $\endgroup$ – jwenting May 18 '17 at 9:50

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