With over 30 years experience in Aircraft Hangars and Hangar Doors we have seen so many people and companies disappointed with the final outcomes and wishing they knew a little more prior to building their hangars.
It would be nice to say there is a standard checklist to follow when planning an aircraft hangar (and to some degree there is), however it isn’t that simple. There is greater complexity in the market than ever before and it takes a person time to wade through the pool of posers and frauds in the aviation world as it is today.
As a long time buyer and general contractor with over 3 million square feet of hangar experience, the best words of advice is do the homework. This includes going to look at the products out there and asking others the upsides as well as the downsides. Remember everyone wants to tell you that they got the best deal, so don’t be afraid to judge that response so you know if the hangar doors are right for you.
We will be discussing points about hangar doors which will coincide with the actual hangar itself, we point this out because the hangar door system requires all types of attributes depending upon the system used. There are many door systems available and all require special consideration, so think about the door as the most important consideration after the size of the hangar because failure to think about one item may create an issue somewhere else in the design.
What is the Mission?
This is a question that we like to ask all of our customers when they ask us our opinion of what the most complete solution is. By mission, it may be literally a mission based complex such as an FBO, or Federal Express and even a man cave hangar, and all of these have standards and expectations that we as door suppliers to the aviation market need to meet.
This is so important because a hangar door such as a Tilt Back Hydraulic Hangar Door may sound great to the buyer, with all the up sides that they want to sell you on, but they fail to mention the building needs to have certain clearances. This type of hangar door will stick half way into the building, which will block lighting and fire suppression as well as create other issues with the aircraft hangar.
Another situation could be a maintenance repair and overhaul facility (MRO) is being sold on a Bi-fold or Hydraulic Door System because they are told how great they are when in fact the operators of the MRO need the attributes of a Rolling Door System for the ability to close off sections and protect during weather events while still working. It is important to understand there are no emergency backups for Bi-fold and Hydraulic hangar doors, so when a hydraulic motor goes bad or electric motor fails, be aware it could be a few days before your hangar door is working again.
This is a huge deal because if you are an FBO and put in a bi-fold hangar door and a motor fails, the client doesn’t care one bit, they just want to use their aircraft to go somewhere. So who pays to get the client somewhere? The FBO? Will you experience a loss of your client who is a good fuel buyer? We don’t know for certain, but what we do know is you need to be advised on what to purchase for your particular needs.
What are the Aircraft being Hangared?
Suppose you are building a hangar in Knoxville TN vs. one in Fort Lauderdale Florida, both places see activity of larger body general aviation aircraft, but do you need to build a door for a 28 foot tail height in Knoxville? The answer is typically “we want to provide for the possibility or future” but the truth is most aircraft that we see do not have a 26 foot tail height. It may be nice to build for the future but the reality is the future may not come and this is what the end user needs to determine.
Recently we got a call for a retrofit from a Bi-fold to Hydraulic and the request was for a 63 foot wide door with a 26 foot clear opening for the hangar door. Needless to say we were compelled to ask the aircraft type for such an opening and the answer was less than impressive, a Pilatus P-12, which boasts a tail height of 14 feet and a wing span of 53 feet. We totally understand 5 feet of clearance on each side, which is more than safe. We typically recommend no less than three feet on each side of the hangar door, however the extra 12 feet clearance for the tail may be excessive.
If your plans are a bulk hangar consider laying out the typical aircraft and determine the required movement to retrieve aircraft from the back of the hangar so you can do a cost benefit analysis on the hangar door systems that may be utilized. This is important in the industrial sectors of the business as well, even our company uses these doors on our fabrication structures so we can move material in and out efficiently, and this is exactly what many users contend with.
We will discuss some of the many hangar door layouts later in this guide so think about what we are saying when it comes to each system. Also, it is important to note we are discussing ALL types of hangar door systems not just ours, even though ours are the finest on the market.
Set Realistic Budgets
In every new project there are costs, this is not earth shattering, but the issue is the budget is often set after the project gets designed and then the project is on paper. The excitement grows only to be thwarted by the fact that there isn’t the budget or the income won’t pay for the construction in terms of the funding.
Building aircraft hangars has been the bulk of my adult life and we see a good many projects fail because of unrealistic budgets. We can all agree we want more than we can afford however, go back to the first paragraph and think about the mission, this will ultimately help keep the budget on course. For those who want to build a 10,000 square foot man cave in their fly in community, that’s awesome, but those are few and far between, so consider the use and plan for what you are doing.
Use a Charrette with Your Team
Consider applying the Charrette method for planning purposes, and identify certain individuals in your organization to help you plan and design your aircraft hangar and hangar doors. You may be an FBO manager thrust into helping with the design of a hangar because a client is bringing his new jet to your operation and fuel sales are going to be up because of the promise of 100 operations a year. It's all looking good, but now you have to come up with a rent price and don’t know the costs.
Your line manager may say something along the lines of, “We need more width because the aircraft in question has an 85 foot wingspan and your planning a 90 foot wide hangar door.” That makes for a tight squeeze, not that it can't be done, but you may need three people to guide the aircraft safely out of the hangar door and that can get costly vs. opening it up to 100 feet where two men can safely handle the jet. Using your key personnel and an architect that can listen as well as provide technical advice will help you find success in the project.
- Land Planning
This is an interesting point that is often not considered but, like it or not, airports aren’t popping up everywhere, they are already built and the land is extremely valuable. The design team needs to consider the door layout as well as the aircraft that will be moving in and around the hangar to determine if the land is being put to the best use. Also consider the fact that fire separation is required between hangars and this includes the door pockets. Consult with the fire marshal of your jurisdiction to verify what we are telling you. Each jurisdiction has variations and reads and interprets the NFPA 409 the way they want to.
- Understand Building Codes and the NFPA 409
What is the NFPA 409? This is the rulebook followed by the fire chief and fire marshals to ensure the proper fire protection system is in place during the hangar plan review. Most designers, Architects and Engineers have no idea the NFPA 409 exists (and even some fire personnel) but the fact is, in mid to larger municipalities the fire departments have become savvy to the requirements of the NFPA. Understanding the NFPA will keep you from having unforeseen costs pop up at the time of permit. Do your homework because your design team may not.
- Consult with the Suppliers
Front end work like contacting your contractor and discussing with them where their expertise lies, it may not be in a pre-engineered metal building for the hangar you’re looking for, but it may be what you can afford. Make sure they understand the requirements you have or at least have the people on their team prior to jumping in bed with them. Once the ink is dry, you may find you need to cut some costs to get the aircraft hangar you need.
- Consider the Aircraft Tug Equipment
Ground handling equipment is often undetermined at the time of selecting your hangar door opening and how you intend to use the aircraft tug. You may find that your aircraft tug isn’t going to work with your particular layout, or you may have a new fangled robotic tug. These robotic tugs are extremely popular but keep in mind, you want to a have good line of sight with these robotic tug systems.
- Egress and Life Safety
This may sound lame, but we all need to go home at the end of the day. Life safety is huge; putting fueled aircraft inside a building where humans are working on them - cutting, torching, and wiring accidents can happen. In the north, hangar doors are kept closed nearly all year round so when your door is closed and there is an emergency you need to be able to escape and therein lies the life safety considerations.
The problem exists when there is a door in the door. In certain types of doors there can be an issue getting a power source to the panel to illuminate the exit sign. There can also be an interlock that prevents the system from opening and ripping off the door from hinges when another opens or closes. In certain bi-folds and hydraulics, the door can create a tipping hazard during the egress in an emergency. There are costs involved, albeit not large, but they all add up.
Again, this article is not intended to scare you, just a guide to keep your mind open to the potential pitfalls that may rear their ugly heads during your pre-construction phase. This Planning Guide is intended to help make your process successful, not hinder it. Our goal at WELL BILT Industries is to have informed buyers, the more informed - the less questions like “why didn’t you tell me this hangar door wasn’t what I wanted?” down the road.
Please use this Aircraft Hangar Planning Guide for discussions on the types and style of doors available and their pros and cons.