Red Bull Air Race Rises To Logistics Challenge




Red Bull Air Race Rises To Logistics Challenge

Moving the Red Bull Air Race around the world


July 18, 2009, moving the Red Bull Air Race around the world is no easy task. Although the entire infrastructure – from the airplanes and hangars to the pylons and race tower – can be built up and then disassembled like clockwork over a three-week period, there are countless behind-the-scenes challenges involved in orchestrating the transport of 15 pilots, their planes and their teams, as well as a 400-member race crew and the 400 tonnes of material that keep the logistics team constantly on their toes.

Whether those challenges include contingency plans to cope with pirates in the Indian Ocean or ensuring that all the international customs requirements in the world’s major ports and airports are fulfilled, the highly motivated logistics team is on a tireless mission to move the entire race from country to country and from continent to continent as safely, as efficiently, as inexpensively and as environmentally friendly as possible. 

It’s a Herculean task by any measure and one that is made even more astonishing if you consider that there are no existing arenas, no stadiums, no venues nor grandstands for the races – in other words: the entire racing and spectator infrastructure is packed up and moved from location to location, and the grounds that are used have to be restored to their pre-race serenity within days. The team has the ambitious goal of even improving the area where races are held; in fact, Monument Valley now has a small tarmac runway instead of the short bumpy dirty runway it had before, thanks to the Red Bull Air Race. 

“It’s extremely exciting but at the same time extremely challenging to find the best and most creative way to coordinate all these massive and complex transport flows,” said Christof Reichl, Logistics Manager for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.


“We’re always looking for ways to improve logistics. The race gets bigger each year and so do the challenges. But that’s what makes it all the more satisfying: Getting everything to where it belongs when it’s needed, and then sitting back and watching the crowds enjoy the racing. When you see the happy looks on their faces, you know that it’s all worthwhile.” 

Sea freight is used to transport as much of the equipment as possible for both cost and environmental reasons, although relying on air freight for inter-continental movements is sometimes unavoidable for the disassembled race planes or the electronic and television broadcasting equipment. But aside from the planes and other one-of-a-kind pieces of equipment that have to be delivered to every race location, there are two complete sets of most of the infrastructure materials. That makes it possible to ship by sea freight from location to location in their respective parts of the world in time. 


Rail freight, rather than trucking, was also used for the first time this year in transporting the 400 tonnes of infrastructure from San Diego, the second race of the season, to Windsor, Ontario in Canada for the third race of the year five weeks later on June 13/14. The 15 teams ferried their own racing planes cross-country by air from San Diego to Windsor – the same method of transport for the planes between races in Europe. Otherwise, the planes are disassembled into about 3 major pieces for overseas transports (fuselage, wing box, tail box). The wings are removed and placed in eight-metre long boxes that resemble giant guitar cases. The rudders and horizontal stabilizers from the tail structure are put in separate padded cases. Most of the electronics and components such as the instrument panel and fuel tank are removed in conjunction with removing the wing. The stripped down six-metre long fuselage is strapped to a pallet. It takes about six hours to take the planes apart and about 18 hours to put them back together again. 

“We’re always trying to find a better way to save costs and protect the environment,” said Stefan Brauneis, Logistics Co-ordinator for the Red Bull Air Race. “Even though there is more material every year our goal is to do it better all the time. We added about 30 tonnes of material with the increase in the number of pilots from 12 to 15. We moved everything by rail from San Diego to Windsor and were able to cut costs and CO2 emissions by about 10 percent. If we had used trucks, the material would have arrived in Windsor sooner and it would have had to have been stored somewhere, which would have added to the costs. We packed everything into 53-foot rail containers in San Diego and because that all went a bit slower everything arrived in Windsor just in time. It worked out very well.” 

Moving the race between continents - from Abu Dhabi in Asia to North America and then to Europe - is more complicated. This year the material, including the disassembled planes, was shipped in 71 containers from Windsor to the next race in Budapest on August 19/20. Because of the nine-week gap between races there was enough time to ship everything, eliminating the need to air lift (in 2008 the planes, the most precious cargo of the race, were airlifted to Europe). The planes may only weigh about 540 kg each but with the teams’ equipment the amount rises to about 15 tonnes airlifted. This year the entire race in 71 sea-freight containers is due to arrive in the port of Bremerhaven in mid-July, Brauneis said. In addition the Red Bull Air Race B105 helicopter is placed on two 20-ft air-freight pallets and is flown across the Atlantic with 25 special air-freight containers on a commercial Boeing 747. There was also a truck-load full of race infrastructure equipment set up on the U.S. side of the Detroit river for the June 13/14 race that had to first be brought back to Windsor for packing in containers. Brauneis said the Red Bull Air Race is always looking for ways to reduce emissions and it aims to be carbon neutral in the near future by off-setting emissions to fight climate change. “Protecting the environment is a really important aspect,” said Brauneis. “We’re always looking for ways to use as few trucks as possible, not only to cut costs but also emissions.” 

There are two main areas where the infrastructure is set up for each race: the so-called “Red Bull Air Race Airport” at a nearby airfield where the hangars are put up and the pilots are based with their teams; and the racing venue itself, where the tower, communications centre, media centre, High Flyer’s Lounge and Race Club hospitality lounges, and water operations including portable barges and Air Gate pylons are set up – as well as the scores of stands and giant video screens for the public viewing areas. 

The work on site begins 14 days before race day when the first 150 crew members arrive, and working with additional assistance hired locally, they reassemble the two-storey mobile communications centre, complete with high-speed internet connectivity and power. That’s where about 50 people coordinating the broadcast and communications will be working on race day and it takes two to three days to put together. After that the 25-metre-high and 35-tonne race control tower, where about 25 officials will be working on race day, is put up. “Once it’s built, the tower is as sturdy as a four-storey house,” Brauneis said. The hangars at the airport and the scores of other buildings are assembled in a series of fluid steps after that. The majority of structures are already erected before the bulk of the crew begins to arrive about four to six days before the race. What is astonishing is how quickly and smoothly it is all put together by the indefatigable teams. The work has multiplied as the race has grown from about 100 staff five years ago to around 400 now. 

“There’s been incredible growth in the last five years,” said Brauneis, who along with other members of the logistics team, is among the first to arrive at the venue 14 days before the race and last to leave six days after it is over. “And the crew members are incredibly motivated. They work very long hours every day. They’re always flexible, always ready to spring in and fix or put together whatever’s necessary. I’m always impressed by their dedication. Everyone’s aware that they’re part of something special and that brings out the best in everyone.”

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