If, as a newly hired employee, you are asked to see the management in their office after just two weeks, this creates a lasting memory. And it really seems to me like yesterday that the technical director at that time, Dr. Helmut Gumbsch, in a brief conversation, entrusted me, the recently hired university graduate, with the task of certifying the first airport fire truck that Rosenbauer ever delivered to Japan in accordance with Japanese standards and regulations.
A milestone in airport construction
Kansai International Airport was still under construction in July 1992, and was seen as a milestone in the development of air transport. The possibilities for expansion of the old Osaka-Itami Airport had been exhausted due to the city growth around the airport, and the decision was made to build an artificial island for the new Kansai Airport in Osaka Bay.
The construction literally broke new ground. A concrete ring formed a boundary for the island, and this was then partially filled with iron ore and gravel, on which were to be situated the terminal building and traffic areas such as runways and taxiways. The settling of the fill was foreseen during the planning phase, so the approximately 1.7 km-long terminal was placed on adjustable stilts, which could individually compensate for the changes in the substrate.
A true milestone in airport construction! Something that Japan – with its reputation as a high-tech country – was of course particularly proud of. When the issue of purchasing appropriate airfield fire engines for the new airport arose, efforts were naturally made to obtain the best of what was technically feasible at the time.
Technological progress in the foreground
As it was established in 1866, Rosenbauer celebrated its 125th anniversary in the fall of 1991, and used this occasion to unveil the new PANTHER series to the public. Our Japanese sales partner Teikoku Sen-I (Teisen) was also invited, and immediately realized that the PANTHER was now the technological leader in the branch of airfield fire trucks.
Its potential for Kansai Airport was clearly established. The mission was to ensure that the most technologically advanced airport received the most technologically advanced fire truck. Teisen and the responsible Rosenbauer sales team signed the contract for the delivery of two PANTHER 6x6s to Kansai International Airport in Osaka in June 1992. This caused a degree of alarm among the highly advanced local manufacturers in Japan. It was the first entry – and a particularly high-profile one at that – of a foreign manufacturer into the Japanese airport industry.
To ensure that this new vehicle really did comply with the strict Japanese regulations, it was clear from the start that the vehicle had to be checked and certified down to the last detail. To ensure this, the customer commissioned a Japanese test institute that specialized in firefighting equipment. My job from now on was to coordinate these certifications between the various departments of Rosenbauer and the Japanese institute.
Testing down to the smallest detail
Certification and testing then took place in two stages. The first step – before the actual construction of the vehicles – was certification of the individual components in accordance with Japanese fire service standards. The second stage was the homologation and, finally, the acceptance tests of the completed vehicles prior to delivery.
The first tests began on November 18, 1992. Why can I still remember the date so clearly? On November 17, 1992, I became a father for the first time, so coordinating my time between the high number of test engineers from Japan and visiting my young family in the hospital was a challenge that I remember well.