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.
On 16 March 2022, at about 1025 local time, a Cessna 172 RG was on approach to Gold Coast Airport, Queensland. The pilot was conducting a solo navigation training exercise.
As the aircraft approached the circuit area, the pilot actioned the before-landing checks, moving the fuel selector from the RIGHT to BOTH indent. Shortly after, the engine stopped. The pilot assessed that the aircraft was not in a position to glide to the runway and prepared the aircraft to conduct a forced landing onto a beach. They made a MAYDAY call on the Gold Coast Tower frequency.
An instructor from the same flying school, flying at the time, advised the pilot to ‘check the fuel selector’. The pilot adjusted the position of the selector and felt it click into the BOTH indent and the engine subsequently restarted. The pilot subsequently conducted a normal circuit and landed at Gold Coast Airport.
The aircraft’s fuel system was inspected by a licenced aircraft maintenance engineer and no faults were found.
The Cessna 172 RG has an integral fuel tank in both the left and right wing. Fuel is gravity fed to a four-way selector valve, then through a strainer to the engine-driven fuel pump and on to the carburettor. The fuel selector allows fuel to be fed from the left tank, right tank, both fuel tanks, or to be selected to OFF.
The pilot’s operating handbook (POH) stated:
The fuel selector valve should be in the BOTH position for take-off, climb, descent, landing, and maneuvers that involve prolonged slips or skids. Operation from either LEFT or RIGHT tank is reserved for level cruising flight only.
Cessna 172 RG POH top-of-descent and before-landing checklists required the fuel selector valve be selected to BOTH. However, the operator’s internal investigation into the incident identified that neither its top-of-descent nor before-landing checklist accurately reflected this requirement.
The operator conducted a survey of its staff and students and identified that, while the majority were aware of the requirement to ensure the fuel selector was selected to BOTH at the top of descent, a small minority changed tanks as part of the before-landing checklist.
As a result of this incident the operator has:
- held a staff discussion to discuss the incident and standardise procedures based on the POH
- raised a safety bulletin to highlight the issue and the dangers of changing fuel tanks at low altitudes
- reviewed and updated the quick reference handbook and abbreviated checklist to follow the manufacturer’s POH
- briefed all students as part of their pre-flight briefings to ensure awareness of following correct procedures.
The ATSB continues to receive reports of engine failures due to fuel starvation. Effective fuel management during flight along with knowledge of the aircraft’s fuel system and proficiency in its use will ensure fuel is continuously supplied to the engine. The ATSB publication, Avoidable Accidents No. 5 - Starved and exhausted: Fuel management aviation accidents (AR-2011-112), is available from the ATSB website.
Operators are advised to ensure their operating procedures and checklist closely align with the aircraft manufacturer’s published materials. This will ensure flight crews consistently operate the aircraft in a method appropriate for the aircraft type.
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.