Two specially equipped Mercedes-Benz Sprinters are playing a key role in keeping planes flying from Gatwick Airport, by cleaning and maintaining its extensive network of aviation fuel hydrants.
The 5.0-tonne chassis cabs were supplied to Gatwick Airport Storage and Hydrant Company (GASHCo) by Rossetts Commercials, which represents Mercedes-Benz Vans in Sussex, Surrey and North Hampshire.
Both are Sprinter 516 CDI models, and powered by punchy yet fuel-efficient 163 hp four-cylinder engines. Their bodies were built by sector specialist Flightline Support, of Witney, Oxfordshire, and are fitted with an array of bespoke equipment used by GASHCo’s crews to carry out their vital work.
Gatwick Airport has 320 hydrants housed in pits beneath the apron surface, from which mobile vehicles draw fuel to refill aircraft tanks. GASHCo is responsible for cleaning and drying these hydrants at regular intervals, so they are always ready for use.
For the last 20 years the company has operated a single Sprinter to carry out these duties. GASHCO’s decision to invest in two new vehicles reflects a significant increase in airport traffic, which has resulted in a rise in demand for its service.
“Our last Mercedes-Benz was exceptionally reliable, a fantastic workhorse,” recalled Operations Supervisor Richard Jeffrey. “These vehicles cover very few miles, but the engines are running constantly because they also power all of our ancillary equipment.”
Mr Jeffrey continued: “Aside from its proven durability, the Sprinter also ticks all of our boxes in terms of its specification. We need a 5.0-tonne chassis to cope with the weight of the body, and everything that’s on it, as well as a direct-drive power take-off to run it all. Very few other vehicles meet these requirements.
“Rossetts Commercials and Flightline Support both worked very closely with us to get the specification of these vehicles just right, and we’re delighted with the results.”
GASHCo handled more than 1.8 billion litres of fuel last year. Its new Sprinters are fitted with high-pressure jet-washing systems, air-drying lances and vacuum pumps to suck out any fluid that has gathered around the hydrants, as well as stainless steel tanks for clean and dirty water.
The hydraulic system which controls these is configured so that the jet-wash and vacuum pumps can be operated simultaneously. Each vehicle also carries special equipment to draw off fuel samples, which can then be analysed to ensure there is no contamination.
All of the equipment is operated via a simple panel on the body, which features gauges, switches, warning lights and audible alarms for all systems, as well as an emergency engine cut-off button – a second button is located on the opposite side. An electrically actuated brake interlock will also cut the engine automatically if the driver attempts to move off with a hose still attached or a coupling incorrectly stowed.
“The fuel system that we look after is crucial to keep the airport’s business moving, so our maintenance vehicles must be 100% reliable,” added Mr Jeffrey. “The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter offers the robust build quality and longevity we need, as well as being safe and comfortable for our operatives. Given our experience over the last two decades, this vehicle can be trusted to do the job.”