Aviation safety investigations & reports

Fuel drum contamination, near Cloncurry Aerodrome, Queensland on 7 September 2016

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed
Phase: Final report: Dissemination Read more information on this investigation phase

Final Report

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What happened

Since September 2016, the ATSB has received several reports of contaminants being identified in Jet A1 drum stock fuel around Australia. The contaminant was a white, stringy, rubbery substance, varying in size and shape from 10-20 mm to as small as 1-2 mm. An operator first identified the contamination in Queensland through visual inspection of fuel drums. Subsequent fuel pump filter inspections revealed that the filters had trapped further contaminants prior to it entering the aircraft’s fuel system. No contaminants were found in any aircraft exposed to the fuel.

Contaminated drums were filled by different refuelling companies but were manufactured by the same company, VIP Packaging. Batch numbers and manufacturing dates on the drums across the incidents did not show any correlation.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB determined that the contaminant was a sealant used by the drum manufacturer on the lid and base of the drums. The sealant’s mechanical properties were found to degrade when exposed to solvents such as Jet A1 fuel. This, in combination with vibration and drum deformation during transport, likely caused pieces of the sealant to enter the fuel within the drum.

Filtration during the refuelling process appeared to be effective in preventing contaminants from reaching the aircraft and there was no evidence that the sealant dissolved in the fuel.

Safety message

Fuel sourced from drum stock is particularly susceptible to contamination. However, there are a number of ways to minimise the likelihood of using contaminated fuel. These include:

  • applying appropriate drum handling and storage methods
  • visually inspecting drums for contaminants prior to refuelling activities
  • regularly inspecting fuel pump filters
  • conducting fuel drains from the aircraft after each refuel for visual inspection.

The following publications provide useful information to pilots, operators, and refuellers regarding the use of drum stock:

  • Civil Aviation Order 20.9 titled Air service operations – precautions in refuelling, engine and ground radar operations; available from the Federal Register of Legislation.
  • Safety on the ground provides advice on refuelling from a drum, and on the correct way to store a fuel drum; available from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s website.
  • CASA Safety Video – Drum Refuelling provides an overview of safe refuelling practices using drum stock; available from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s YouTube channel.
Download Final report
[Download  PDF: 921KB]

The occurrence


Safety analysis


Sources and submissions

General details
Date: 07 September 2016   Investigation status: Completed  
  Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): near Cloncurry Aerodrome (Grenada Station)   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: Queensland   Occurrence type: Fuel contamination  
Release date: 22 April 2020   Occurrence category: Technical Analysis  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  
Last update 22 April 2020