Aviation occurrence briefs

Fuel starvation, Piper PA 31 350 near Devonport Airport, Tasmania, on 21 March 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 21 March 2021, at about 2200 Eastern Daylight-saving Time,[1] a Piper PA-31-350 aircraft was operating a scheduled freight flight from Moorabbin, Victoria to Devonport, Tasmania. On board was a pilot in command supervising a second company pilot.

During approach, when about 5 NM from Devonport Airport, the low boost pump and low fuel flow warning lights illuminated. The right engine stopped shortly after. The pilot in command confirmed the fuel selector was in the correct position and observed that the fuel gauges indicated three-quarters full, which was as expected. The pilot then attempted to cross-feed fuel from the left engine, which was unsuccessful. By this time, the aircraft was on mid-final and, once assured of making the runway, the pilot stopped troubleshooting and concentrated on landing the aircraft.

After landing, the pilot inspected the fuel cap, which appeared to be secured correctly. However, blue stains were evident on top of the wing consistent with fuel venting out of the fuel cap. The fuel system was subsequently inspected by maintenance personnel with nil defects found with the fuel cap and no blockages in the fuel tank vents.

The pilot later advised that the rubber bladder containing the fuel within the tank was sucked up against the top of the wing as the tank emptied, providing a false indication of the fuel remaining in the tank.

Safety action

As a result of this occurrence, the aircraft operator has advised the ATSB that brighter torches would be carried in the aircraft to ensure flight crew could see the fuel tank caps during night operations. The aircraft operator already had a policy for pilots to check fuel caps for venting after take-off.

Safety message

Fuel starvation happens when the fuel supply to the engine(s) is interrupted although there is adequate fuel on board.

This incident reinforces the need to:

  • conduct a thorough pre-flight inspection ensuring all fuel tank caps are secured correctly
  • determine the expected rate of fuel consumption prior to flight
  • monitor fuel consumption during flight
  • be fully familiar with the fuel system’s operation.

More information on fuel management can be found in the 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.


  1. A Eastern Daylight-saving Time (EDT): Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 11 hours.
General details
Date: 21 March 2021   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 2200 EDT    
Location   (show map): near Devonport Airport    
State: Tasmania    
Release Date: 27 April 2021   Occurrence category: Serious Incident  
Report status: Final    

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft Corp  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Moorabbin, Victoria  
Destination Devonport, Tasmania  
Last update 27 April 2021