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The aviation industry is booming. The number of planes in the sky continues to climb (IATA, 2018), while almost all airports in the world with over 20 million passengers per year are either congested or will face capacity issues in the next 10 years.


This puts pressure on everyone across the aviation industry to continue to improve the quality and speed of their work.

While we experience many challenges, one of our biggest is taking care of refuelling our client’s planes in extreme weather conditions and busy aprons.

Our frontline teams impress me again and again with their skills and ability to serve our clients, no matter the challenge. Every day at Shell Aviation we do our very best to help our customers address the challenges they face, whether they’re operating in arctic or desert conditions.

This means providing on-time performance, assuring the right products and product quality, delivering cost competitive work and being able to make adjustments when flight schedules changes.

We operate at 125 airports and 60 Join Ventures globally, each with its own approach and with different weather conditions our teams have to face.  

Extreme temperatures


Our work is not one-size-fits-all. From Yellowknife, Canada where temperatures can drop to -37°C to Dubai where they can hit +49°C, extreme temperatures are not at all uncommon in our line of work.

I once observed refuelling and service operations in Yellowknife, one of the coldest parts of Canada. Problems employees face when they operate on the apron can range from slippery surfaces to frozen and leaking connections.

Despite these dangers, our team in Yellowknife refuels more than 30 planes a day. During my time there I noticed that everything works differently than usual; blizzard-force winds and extreme cold make materials more difficult to deploy and oils get twice as thick.

Both our people and the materials they work with are at increased risk, even though they are fully prepared for the extreme cold. During my visit, the team was encouraged to come inside and warm up between refuelling planes to avoid frostbite and cold exposure.

In moments like these you realise just how important it is that our people look out for one another as they navigate dangerous situations that could have significant or even fatal consequences if anything goes wrong.


Situations are every bit as challenging at the other end of the spectrum where extreme weather conditions can include not only extreme heat but also sandstorms.

I have witnessed refuelling in Dubai where there are no shades at the apron, resulting in full exposure of the operator for the duration of the refuelling process, whilst being aware of all other activities that are happening around the airplane.

Hence, battling the elements at these temperatures includes threats such as dehydration and fatigue.

Teamwork and training

Intensive training plays a key role in ensuring smooth and safe operations no matter the weather. Consequently, we provide comprehensive training programmes for our operators and frontline leaders at all locations we present at.

This core training is even being expanded upon with Virtual Reality modules to increase the speed-to-competency of our team members and enable them to train and experience the equipment in scenarios and environments that were previously not possible to simulate or see into. Each airport, aircraft and operational circumstance requires its own approach.

This relies heavily on the frontline Team Leads to organise their staff – our frontline heroes – and operational processes accordingly. Especially with many airports expanding as well as replacing infrastructures.

These continuously changing operating environments and the added complication of other parties active at the apron makes operating safely and on-time extremely challenging.

We also staff our crews with employees who excel not only in their technical expertise, but also in teamwork skills.


For our teams on the apron, excellent teamwork means caring for each other. They keep safety in mind as everyone works toward the common goals of achieving on-time fuelling, avoiding delays, customer satisfaction and achieving ‘Goal Zero’ (no harm and no leaks across all of our operations).

Every one of them is encouraged to intervene in an unsafe situation, no matter who is involved and what one’s individual role is.    

In the Yellowknife example, teamwork is essential to providing the best service to customers as well as protecting the health and well-being of employees on the apron. In environments where -40°C/-50°C is not uncommon, we make sure that no one works alone.

In the rare situations when this isn’t avoidable, safety is protected by an app called ‘Geopro’ on Skypad: our intrinsically safe, zone 1 tablet and cloud-based computer administration platform. If an operator hasn’t checked in via the Geopro-app after a certain period of time, the app reminds the operator to do so. If he or she fails to reply, the operations manager is called directly.

On the apron of Dubai Airport, teamwork can mean managing constant changes and the demands of customers while accounting for members of the team who are sick or may need extra support.

Take Ramadan, for example, which can fall during Dubai’s extreme summer heat. Colleagues who observe Ramadan and abstain from food and drink during daylight hours are given extra attention and offered a helping hand when needed by team members who do not take part in the fasting.

It’s this kind of regard for one another and the work we do that helps us deliver what our clients need and expect of us.• Author, Thomas de Boer is the chief operating officer at Shell Aviation.


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