Aviation occurrence briefs

Fuel exhaustion, Piper PA-30 near Caboolture, Queensland, on 14 January 2021

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 14 January 2021, the pilot of a Piper PA-30 aircraft planned to conduct circuits for the purpose of running the engines after a prolonged storage period. The pilot’s usual procedure had been to fill the aircraft tanks (to full) prior to flight. On this occasion, instead of filling the tanks, the pilot  visually checked the quantity of fuel in the wing tanks and assessed it was sufficient for the planned flight.

A graphic engine monitor unit was installed in the aircraft but was reported to have reverted to factory settings following a flat battery. The pilot therefore deemed this an unreliable source of fuel quantity information.

Shortly after take-off on the fourth circuit, the left engine stopped due to fuel exhaustion. The pilot initiated a turn back to the runway. Once confident of making the runway, the pilot configured the aircraft for landing.

With limited manoeuvrability due to one engine inoperative, and the possibility of the right engine stopping at any moment, the pilot elected to land with a tailwind. This resulted in a higher ground speed on touchdown. The ground speed, combined with the wet grass surface, meant that the braking performance was insufficient to stop the aircraft on the runway remaining. The aircraft overran the runway into a wire fence resulting in minor damage to the nose and wings.

Safety action

As a result of this occurrence, the owner has advised the ATSB that they have made a calibrated dipstick to accurately measure the quantity of fuel in the wing tanks.

Safety message

This incident is a reminder to pilots to ensure sufficient fuel is carried for the proposed flight. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority advisory publication, CAAP-234-1 Guidelines for aircraft fuel, provides guidance for fuel quantity crosschecking. Pilots should use at least two independent verification methods to determine the quantity of fuel on board the aircraft.

Case studies for pilots to learn about fuel management related accidents are documented in the ATSB publication Avoidable Accidents No. 5 – Starved and exhausted: Fuel management aviation accidents.

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: 14 January 2021   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1300 EST    
Location   (show map): near Caboolture,    
State: Queensland    
Release Date: 24 February 2021   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Type of operation General Aviation  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Minor  
Departure point near Caboolture, Queensland  
Destination near Caboolture, Queensland  
Last update 25 February 2021