Aviation occurrence briefs

Fuel starvation involving a Piper PA-28, north of Paynes Find, WA, on 18 July 2019

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 18 July 2019, the pilot of a Piper PA-28 was conducting a private flight from Jandakot to Meekatharra, Western Australia.

During the flight, the pilot identified that the fuel in the left-hand tank was lower than, and being consumed at, a greater rate than expected. Shortly after, the engine failed and due to the remote location of the aircraft, the pilot advised that he declared a MAYDAY[1] to air traffic control. The pilot commenced troubleshooting as per the aircraft’s flight manual to attempt to resolve the engine issue. After changing the fuel selector and activating the fuel pump, power was restored to the engine.

Rather than proceed with the planned flight, the pilot diverted and landed the aircraft to Paynes Find Airport for further assessment. There were no reported injuries or damage to the aircraft.

A post-flight inspection revealed that the left-hand fuel drain was not in the fully closed position leading to fuel leaking from the left tank.

Safety message

If an engine fails or runs rough due to fuel starvation, changing the selected tanks should restore power but may take some time to take effect. In this incident, after engine power was restored the pilot assessed the situation and elected to land the aircraft as soon as possible for inspection, to ensure the safety of the aircraft and its occupants.

Fuel starvation continues to be a common cause of engine failures. More information can be found in the ATSB report, Starved and exhausted: Fuel management aviation accidents, which highlights key messages about accurate fuel management and keeping fuel supplied to the engines.

This incident also highlights the importance of thorough pre-flight inspections to ensure the aircraft is safe for flight. This includes confirming that fuel drains are correctly closed after fuel sampling.

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.



  1. MAYDAY: an internationally recognised radio call announcing a distress condition where an aircraft or its occupants are being threatened by serious and/or imminent danger and the flight crew require immediate assistance.
General details
Date: 18 July 2019   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0930 WST    
Location   (show map): 10 NM (19 km) north of Paynes Find    
State: Western Australia    
Release Date: 17 September 2019   Occurrence category: Serious Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Aircraft model PA-28  
Type of operation Private  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Jandakot, Western Australia  
Destination Meekatharra, Western Australia  
Last update 17 September 2019