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Ongoing learning vital for good aviation fuel management

The ATSB is reminding pilots of the need to continue to educate themselves about the risks and controls involved in effective fuel management. 

Fuel exhaustion: Not knowing how much fuel is on board

The ATSB’s investigation into the fuel exhaustion and forced landing of a Piper PA-28, registered VH-BDB (BDB), near Bankstown Airport, New South Wales, highlights the need for effective fuel management to avoid fuel starvation.

The accident occurred on 19 September 2017, when despite having enough fuel on board, the Piper aircraft had a loss of engine power that resulted in a forced landing, 15 km west-south-west of the airport. The loss of engine power was found to be the result of fuel starvation from the selection of a fuel tank with insufficient fuel to complete the flight.

ATSB Executive Director Transport Safety Nat Nagy says that accidents involving fuel mismanagement are an ongoing aviation safety concern.

“Each year, we receive more than 20 reports of fuel exhaustion or starvation,” Mr Nagy said.

You need to understand how the fuel system works on your aircraft, know how much fuel you have in each tank, and make sure you have the appropriate tank selected at all times.

In this occurrence, the pilot of BDB conducted a pre-flight inspection and believed the aircraft had full fuel on board and as the flight was only for 30-40 minutes did not intend to change the fuel tank selector during the flight.

As the aircraft returned to Bankstown and approached waypoint 2RN, the pilot noticed the engine was fluctuating. The pilot selected the electric fuel pump on, but the engine fluctuations became worse. The pilot then performed the engine failure immediate checks, but failed to change fuel tanks, and then carried out a forced landing. The pilot received minor injuries. The aircraft was substantially damaged.

Fuel exhaustion and starvation can occur during any phase of flight.  ATSB data shows that most reported occurrences have been in the cruise or in the descent, approach and landing phases of flight.

“You need to understand how the fuel system works on your aircraft, know how much fuel you have in each tank, and make sure you have the appropriate tank selected at all times,” Mr Nagy said. ‘To reduce the risk of a fuel starvation event when on descent, selecting the appropriate fuel tank during the pre-descent checks will avoid having to manage this during the higher workload period during approach to land.”

For information and procedures to avoid fuel starvation or exhaustion are available in the ATSB’s booklet Avoidable Accidents No.5 – Starved and exhausted: Fuel Management and aviation accidents as well as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s Civil Aviation Advisory Publication 234-1: Guidelines for aircraft fuel requirements.

Read the final report: AO-2017-094: Fuel starvation and forced landing involving Piper PA-28, VH-BDB, near Bankstown Airport, NSW, on 19 September 2017.

 
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Last update 02 May 2018