Shell Aviation is a leading global supplier of aviation fuels and lubricants, working at close to 800 airports in approximately 40 countries. Vice-president Anne Anderson discusses the company’s day-to-day work, the technical support portfolio and Aviation Centre of Excellence programme it offers its customers, and how it is pushing the boundaries of research and development.

Royal Dutch Shell and aviation go way back. In 1909, the company fuelled Louis Blériot’s plane when he became the first person to cross the English Channel; ten years later, it developed a special blended fuel known as ‘Shell Aviation spirit’ for the first ever non-stop crossing of the Atlantic and, in the same year, the first flight from the UK to Australia.

In 1979, the company supplied fuel and lubricants for British Airways Concorde’s very first flight from London to Bahrain and, in 1989, it did the same for Qantas’s record-breaking Boeing 747 journey from the UK to Australia.

"After more than 100 years in the aviation industry, we’re looked to as experts for a lot of the different aspects of fuelling," says Anne Anderson, vice-president for Shell Aviation, sitting down to talk with Future Airport at the Shell Centre in central London.

Most people, when they think of Shell, don’t necessarily think of airports or aircraft but, today, it’s estimated that the company refuels an aircraft every 12 seconds on average, and provides fuel for more than 7,000 planes every day.

"As the industry has developed, we continue to push the boundaries," says Anderson. "Customers look to us because they want peace of mind when it comes to refuelling, and related technical and operational capabilities. They know that we have the know-how and experience in effectively managing what comes out of a refinery what goes into an aircraft.

The top concerns

That’s where Shell Aviation comes in. Having just relocated from Houston, the oil and gas capital of the US, to the UK, Anderson brings her technical background as an engineer, and in supply and distribution to Shell’s aviation business. When airports approach the company for help, it’s usually with two key concerns, she says. The first thing is the need to guarantee the safety and security of the fuel supply they’re being provided.

"They want to know that the fuel quality is good," she says. "It’s something they don’t want to have to think about in terms of any issues that might arise with how the fuel shows up at the airport."

The second key concern is that they want to be able to turn planes around as fast as they possibly can. Getting aircraft refuelled quickly has a major impact on revenue and accomplishing it without compromising on safety is a real challenge. It is all about ensuring safe operations for all those working on the apron and that the refuelling operations at the airport are carried out proficiently.

"They look to us to make sure we’re efficient and safe, and to get the planes out as quickly as possible," Anderson says.

Shell has experience designing, building and managing fuelling operations across the world, and through its Technical Services Agreements (TSA), the company offers airports, airlines and facility operators a suite of tools to enhance safety and operational standards. These include training, inspection and devising operating standards, with the support of Technical Consultancy and Fueltec teams.

"Our technical services build the necessary competencies of the fuelling operators, as well as providing advice on safety and operational standards for fuel handling," says Anderson. "Aviation operations managers deal with numerous challenges, from helping aircraft maintain their tight flying schedules to providing a safe end-to-end fuel handling process."

Consulting on quality

As part of Shell Aviation Technical Services Agreements, customers receive technical and operational support, jet-fuel quality assistance via aviation fuel product quality systems, interpretation of certification data and management of product quality incidents, training and inspection programmes, and access to experts and best practices through the TSA portal. In some ways, it works like a consultancy, according to Anderson.

"There are services for which you can come to Shell Aviation, receiving above and beyond just what we normally provide. For instance, we support customers on how to improve their operational performance through our ‘Best in Class Airport Operations’ programme, and we provide engineering services for hydrant design development and commissioning. We respond to a lot of different requests."

In addition to its focus on the safety and operational standards of its own operations, Shell Aviation is also actively involved in industry bodies which set them, including the Joint Inspection Group (JIG) Fuel Quality Committee, International Air Transport Association (IATA) Technical Fuel Group and the Energy Institute.

Shell is markedly broad in the types of aviation services it offers and the diversity of its customer base, which involves everyone from customers of global, local and regional airlines to private pilots.

Anderson says that Shell is one of the few companies that offer comprehensive services to aviation customers across the full value chain, bringing its experience and expertise in areas from product development in the laboratory to refining, shipping, pipelines, trucking, storage and handling, and fuelling aircraft.

"Shell has the advantage that we provide the lubricants and the fuels, and we have the entire supply chain up to the airports, so we have a pretty comprehensive view of what happens before and at an airport, and in an aircraft," she says.

"We have a pretty broad offering in the aviation industry – we also work with helicopter operatiors and, recently, we were involved in creating an operations manual for fuelling offshore helicopters and planes serving offshore platforms. So the scope of our work is very diverse."

An ACE in the sleeve

Customers keen to grow their businesses and tackle particular challenges can also take advantage of Shell’s Aviation Centre of Excellence (ACE) programme for airports and fixed-based operators. The programme focuses on delivering efficient operations, establishing and maintaining high safety standards, using state-of-the-art equipment and providing marketing support through the Shell brand.

"It is a comprehensive programme that we offer to airports that are keen to grow through developing their technical know-how and also through marketing support. They trust us to help them achieve their specific needs whether it is safety excellence or supply security, for example" says Anderson.

The broad expertise of Shell can be attributed to the substantial investment in research and development.

"We have a dedicated team of aviation scientists at a specialist aviation research facility within Shell Technology Center Houston, in Texas," says Anderson. "They can work closely with and draw upon the expertise of other Shell scientists around the world that develop fuels and lubricants for other sectors."

In 2014, Royal Dutch Shell invested more than $1.2 billion on R&D, and since 2007, the group has spent more to research and develop innovative technology than any other international oil and gas company.

Success in the aviation fuels and lubricants business is about being genuinely close to the customer, according to Anderson, in addition to offering the right products and services in the right places through listening to and collaborating with end users, OEM partners and industry bodies.

"We develop a deep understanding of their businesses, the challenges they face and the environments they operate in," she says.