A prime determinant in aviation safety is the provision of
reliable, accurate, and timely information to flight crew. This
provides the basis for them to make the best decisions, thereby
One area of aircraft operation where the quality of information is
sometimes less than ideal is fuel management. Between 1991 and
2000, there were a total of 139 fuel-related accidents reported to
the ATSB. Forty-nine lives were lost as a result, with an estimated
cost to the Australian community to be somewhere between $63
million and $127 million. Fuel exhaustion and fuel starvation
accidents continue to be a problem in the Australian aviation
industry, accounting for over 6% of all accidents between 1991 and
2000. While fuel starvation accident rates have remained relatively
stable over the past 20 years, fuel exhaustion accident rates have
shown a decrease of 29.6%.
Another area where better information is desirable is engine
operation and maintenance. Enhanced engine instrumentation, which
provides more accurate presentation of engine operating information
has the potential to improve safety in the event of
'one-engine-out' operations. Additionally, such instrumentation may
result in increased engine efficiency and reliability, and also
reduce maintenance costs.
The introduction of Global Positioning Systems has brought
substantial benefits. Other high technology devices are available
that have applicability in other aspects of aircraft operation.
These include monitoring devices that provide accurate, timely, and
reliable information on aircraft engine and fuel systems that may
allow crews to operate at a higher level of safety and
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is currently reviewing
the civil aviation regulations in an attempt to make them simple,
unambiguous and generally harmonised with those of other leading
aviation nations. As part of this process, a number of additional
fuel management requirements have been proposed. However, those
requirements make no reference to hardware improvements that are
now available in the form of system monitoring devices that provide
timely, reliable, and accurate information on many facets of
aircraft operation, including fuel and engine system operation.
Such systems have the potential to enhance aviation safety,
particularly with respect to the operation of general aviation type
aircraft whose systems have remained substantially unaltered for
many years and make very little use of the technology currently
The proposed Civil Aviation Safety Regulation (CASR) Part 121B
requires cockpit voice recorders in fixed wing twin-turbine powered
aircraft with MTOW less than 5700 kg. There is no reference in the
document to monitoring or recording devices in other small aircraft
that may be engaged in air transport operations.
While current Digital Flight Data Recording systems may be
expensive options for retrofit to the current fleet of general
aviation aircraft, there have been many technological developments
in cost effective monitoring and recording devices for aircraft
systems in recent years. These include devices that could be
retro-fitted to aircraft currently in service.
Fuel management and engine monitoring systems can provide
additional, accurate, and more reliable information to flight crew
and maintenance personnel regarding the operation of various
aircraft systems, both in real time, and by way of recorded data.
They offer the potential, therefore, to enhance safety in aircraft
operation and maintenance.
An additional benefit of such devices is the potential they offer
as a source of information for incident and accident
The level of sophistication of monitoring and recording devices
varies, as does the cost. However, with the increasing availability
of such equipment, it is timely for an assessment to be made as to
whether such equipment should be required for some types of
aircraft operation, particularly where fare-paying passengers are
See also ATSB Discussion Paper 'Australian Aviation Accidents
Involving Fuel Exhaustion and Starvation'.