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Afghanistan: Burning The Right Stuff - Fuel Quality Training For UNHAS

A training participating takes a sample of fuel and swirls it in a glass jar, visually testing for the presence of contaminants.

Photo: WFP/Teresa Ha

In addition to providing air support to more than 160 aid and donor agencies in Afghanistan, the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) is working with aviation staff on recommended international standards.

In October 2011, during routine pre-inspection in Herat, aircraft maintenance engineers saw that the fuel filters of an UNHAS plane were covered with an oily, cakey black grease. This is normal for fuel filters, which require regular changing every 2,000 flight hours. But it shouldn’t have happened again with this plane – the filter had just been changed less than 50 flight hours ago.

“We realized that the problem was very likely due to fuel quality, so we did some quality assurance tests of aviation fuel at our major airports,” says Kennedy Ooro, UNHAS’ Kabul-based Air Transport Officer. “We found that the fuel being used in Herat was below accepted industry standards.”

A quick review of aviation fuel handling practices confirmed that many airport staff in Herat, including those from commercial carriers, had been regularly receiving and using fuel that contained a higher-than-average presence of contaminants, which lowered fuel efficiency and increased maintenance requirements. Since fuel handlers had never properly tested the fuel at the airport, the quality issues were never discovered. Although most UNHAS’ refuellers have worked in the aviation sector for five or more years, UNHAS management decided to organize a refresher course on fuel handling and procedures for its staff. To help ensure that practices are institutionalized, UNHAS also invited participants from commercial airlines, other humanitarian air services, the commercial fuel provider Dawi Oil, and representatives from the Afghan Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. Says Mohammad Nadir Karimi, a refueller in Mazar-e-Sharif, “Everyone used to just clean the filters with water. I didn’t realize we needed to sample and test each time. In total, 25 participants attended the 3-day workshop in Kabul, conducted by the US-based Trace Petro Consultants, and covering everything from fuel sampling to aircraft refueling, safety awareness and tanker uploading and downloading.

Waheed, an engine shop supervisor with a commercial airline, said that these types of trainings were rare in Afghanistan, but very welcome. “It’s necessary to know about the handling procedures and sampling,” he said. “This will help with my job very much.”

A flight coordinator with UNHAS in Kandahar, Zabihullah Razae promised to try to relay what he learned to his counterparts in the south, and was grateful to have expanded his knowledge and experience on the handling of aviation fuel.

Mohammad Nadir Karimi agrees. “This was my first international training on fuel handling. Now, I know that you have to test the fuel three times after sampling. This was very useful.”

At the end of the training, each participant received a certificate of attendance and was reminded to share their new knowledge with other colleagues at their stations to help improve fuel quality and safety awareness.

WFP’s UNHAS Special Operation is supported by a generous contribution from the Government of Japan, enabling aid organizations to monitor and implement their projects the country, and strengthening the capacity of the aviation sector in Afghanistan.