Aviation occurrence briefs

Fuel starvation and collision with terrain involving Piper PA-28, Bankstown Airport, NSW, on 2 April 2018

Status: Completed
Investigation completed


Occurrence Briefs are concise reports that detail the facts surrounding a transport safety occurrence, as received in the initial notification and any follow-up enquiries. They provide an opportunity to share safety messages in the absence of an investigation.

What happened

On 2 April 2018, a student pilot was conducting solo circuit training in a Piper PA-28 from Bankstown Airport, New South Wales.

At 1114 Eastern Standard Time, the aircraft was passing through 700 ft on climb to circuit height on the crosswind leg runway 29L, when the engine failed. The pilot immediately turned the aircraft towards the airport and conducted a forced landing, omitting the required checks. During landing, the aircraft contacted trees resulting in substantial damage. The pilot was not injured.

Post-flight it was determined that fuel starvation was the cause of the engine failure. The pilot stated they thought the right fuel tank was full and the left fuel tank was just under full before the flight. After the accident, fuel on board prior to the flight was calculated to be 24 litres in the left tank and 43 litres in the right tank. After the engine failed, the pilot did not switch fuel tanks.

The operator has an arrangement with a local refueller whereby they fill up the aircraft to full tanks and leave a chalk mark on a tyre. When an aircraft has been moved, the refueller can see this and tops up the tanks to full capacity. This did not occur on this occasion and may have led to complacency with the expectation that the tanks would be full.

Safety message

Accurate fuel management starts with knowing exactly how much fuel is being carried at the commencement of a flight. This is easy to know if the aircraft tanks are full, or filled to tabs. If the tanks are not filled to a known setting, then a different approach is needed to determine an accurate quantity of usable fuel.

Fuel starvation continues to be a common cause of engine failure. Effective fuel management in flight and the checking of fuel quantities reduces the risks of a fuel starvation event. Once an engine has failed or runs rough due to fuel starvation, changing the selected tanks should restore power but may take some time to take effect. Fuel tank changes should be done in conjunction with any other checks as recommended by the aircraft flight manual. For more information on fuel management, see ATSB research report, Starved and Exhausted: Fuel management aviation accidents (AR-2011-112).

About this report

Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, no investigation has been conducted and the ATSB did not verify the accuracy of the information. A brief description has been written using information supplied in the notification and any follow-up information in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.

General details
Date: 02 April 2018   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1045 EST    
Location   (show map): Bankstown Airport    
State: New South Wales    
Release Date: 28 September 2018   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model PA-28  
Type of operation Flying Training  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Last update 12 December 2018