Aviation occurrence briefs

Low fuel, Cessna 152 Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, on 28 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 28 January 2021, a student pilot was conducting a solo local training flight in a Cessna 152. The aircraft departed Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, with 35 L of fuel on board. As the aircraft was going into maintenance the next day, the student was advised by their instructor to return from the flight with minimum fuel remaining. The flight school’s policy stated that the required minimum remaining fuel was 19 L as a fixed reserve, and an additional 5 L fuel was to be allocated for taxiing. For the useable fuel on board, the policy and fuel planning figures would have allowed for 26 minutes of flight. The total recorded engine-run time for the taxi and flight was 1.2 hours.

The aircraft landed at Bacchus Marsh with 15 L of fuel remaining, which was confirmed when maintainers drained the tank the next day. 

Safety action

The flight school’s fuel policy is under review and a plan to further educate staff and students is being developed.

Safety message

This incident highlights the importance of clear communication between instructors and students. Instead of giving the student a timeframe, the instructor gave a fuel-remaining measurement, which is harder to gauge accurately, and led to the student using fixed reserve fuel. Additionally, other options should be explored to bring the aircraft to minimum fuel for maintenance instead of using a student on a solo training flight.

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: 28 January 2021   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1530 ESuT    
Location   (show map): Bacchus Marsh    
State: Victoria    
Release Date: 25 February 2021   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Cessna Aircraft Company  
Type of operation Flying Training  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Bacchus Marsh, Victoria  
Departure time 1530 ESuT  
Destination Bacchus Marsh, Victoria  
Last update 25 February 2021