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Fuel Management. Simon Stuart. Squadron 80. San Jose, CA. Video. Would you fly this airline?. Courtesy AOPA. 2. Fuel Starvation & Exhaustion. “ Engine Failure: A condition which occurs when all fuel tanks mysteriously become filled with air.“. Fuel Starvation

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fuel management

Fuel Management

Simon Stuart

Squadron 80

San Jose, CA


Would you fly this airline?

Courtesy AOPA


fuel starvation exhaustion
Fuel Starvation & Exhaustion

“Engine Failure: A condition which occurs when all

fuel tanks mysteriously become filled with air.“

  • Fuel Starvation
  • Engine cannot get available fuel
    • Selected tank runs dry
    • Contaminant blockage
    • Pump failure (Esp. low wing aircraft)
  • Forced landing inevitable unless prompt action taken.
  • Usually pilot error
  • Fuel Exhaustion
  • All tanks “dry”
  • Forced landing inevitable
  • Almost always pilot error


do pilots just forget
Do pilots just “Forget”?
  • Sometimes, but frequently the cause is:
  • An error in preflight planning
  • Lack of enroute monitoring
  • Too hurried to divert and refuel
  • No pilot departs anticipating an accident.


invulnerable attitudes
Invulnerable Attitudes

“Range: Usually about 10 miles beyond

the point where all fuel tanks fill with air.”

“It won’t happen to me.”

“That gauge can’t be right.”

“This isn’t happening!”


three accidents per week
Three Accidents per Week…
  • Most do not show up as NTSB reports
  • Databases:
    • NTSB: http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp
    • FAA Accident / Incident Data System (AIDS): http://www.asias.faa.gov/
    • AOPA Fuel management Mishap Map: http://www.aopa.org/asf/ntsb/fuelmap.cfm
    • NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS): http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/


nasa aviation safety reporting system
NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System

“If the pilot survives the accident, you'll

never find out what really happened.”

— Doug Jeanes

  • The ASRS: First hand pilot accounts
  • Different from NTSB reports
  • Learn from the mistakes of others
  • http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/
    • Report Sets: http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/search/reportsets.html
    • Fuel Reports: http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/docs/rpsts/fuel.pdf
  • Example: ACN: 849661. “A CL65 Captain laments the low fuel loads that are routinely being used by dispatchers at his airline”. Assessment: Primary Problem: Company Policy


determining fuel levels
Determining Fuel Levels
  • Traditional dipstick method
  • Analog fuel gauges
    • Only required to be accurate when empty
  • Digital fuel gauges
  • Fuel totalizers
    • Accurate to 1/10th gallon
    • Depends upon pilot setting after adding fuel
  • Glass Cockpit (e.g. G1000) Features
    • Range rings
    • Annunciations


know thy airplane
“Know Thy Airplane”
  • “Many pilots run afoul of fuel management when switching
  • between aircraft with different fuel systems.”
  • Citabria 7ECA. High wing. Gravity fed. Off/On selector. No fuel pump
  • Cessna 182T. 13 sumps. 3 ways of confirming fuel levels during preflight. Totalizer accuracy
  • Bonanza 35. Many variations and some complex fuel systems. Up to 5 tanks. Left tank venting on some models
    • CG moves rearward. Possible landing out of CG envelope
    • Low fuel takeoff limits, 6g unusable


how much fuel do you need
How Much Fuel Do You Need?
  • FAA Regulations
    • General (Part 91). E.g. “Going up in Uncle Bob’s plane”
    • Commuter & On Demand (Part 135). E.g. “Aspen Air Charter”
    • Scheduled Air Carrier (Part 121). E.g. “United Airlines”
  • Non-FAA Overlays
    • Airline Policy
    • Civil Air Patrol Requirements. E.g. “1 hour left? Land and refuel.”
  • FAA Factors Influencing Reserves
    • Day, Night, VFR, IFR, Alternates
  • Other Factors To Consider
    • Mountains, Water, Icing, Altitude, Headwinds, Traffic
  • Personal Minimums
    • Arguably the most important
    • Developed from experience
    • Create a “Risk Profile” for the flight


can you carry too much fuel
Can You Carry Too Much Fuel?

"The only time an aircraft has too much

fuel on board is when it is on fire.”

— Sir Charles Kingsford Smith

  • well, not always…
  • Additional fuel affects TAS only marginally.
    • Increasing weight 440lbs to MGTW in a Mooney 201 reduces cruise speed by around 5 knots (3%).
  • Additional fuel affects takeoff distances and rate of climb significantly.
    • A Cessna 182T departing Tahoe at 65F at MGTW vs. 400lbs lighter will require an additional 1500’ to get to 50’ AGL.
    • The ROC on a Mooney 201 would decrease by 50%.


aopa recommendations
AOPA Recommendations
  • Flight Planning
    • Know your airplane
    • Give yourself an hour's reserve
    • Be realistic with routing
    • Check fuel availability
    • Remember aircraft performance
    • Note color and smell
    • Let water settle
    • Sump early, sump often
    • Dispose of fuel properly
    • Check for leaks
    • Verify quantity
  • In Flight
    • Check groundspeed
    • Lean and mean
    • Switch tanks regularly
    • Be prepared to divert
    • Tell ATC



personal experiences
Personal Experiences
  • Rapidly venting fuel. Palo Alto. Citabria.
  • Inaccurate gauge readings near the end of a 500nm cross country. San Jose. Cessna 182.
  • Broken gauge resulting in fuel starvation on final. Reid-Hillview. Cessna 172.
  • Over a quart of rainwater in a tank after a heavy overnight downpour. Oceanside. Bonanza P35.
  • High fuel burn due to low altitude plus headwinds resulting in diversion. Los Banos. Cessna 170.

Fortunately, all these situations ended with uneventful non- emergency landings. But they can happen to anyone.


notable fuel related accidents
Notable Fuel Related Accidents
  • Airlines
  • United 173. DC-8. Portland
  • Tuninter 1153. ATR-72. Tunisia
  • Charter
  • Pel-Air. Westwind. Norfolk Island
  • Bay Area Aircraft
  • N1857H. PA-28. Firebaugh
  • N2805E. Aeronca 7BC. Half Moon Bay
  • N9547D. PA-22. San Jose RHV
  • N5479A. C210. San Jose RHV
  • Other
  • N7589S. Cessna 182. Texas
  • Amelia Earhart


case study n16ej
Case Study: N16EJ
  • May 2000, Pennsylvania
  • Two Professional Pilots. Captain 8,500 hours TT
  • British Aerospace Jetstream 3101
  • PIC fails to check fuel prior to departure
  • Fuel exhaustion after cleared for the approach in IMC
  • 19 Fatalities


other suggestions
Other Suggestions
  • Special diligence required for expected IMC at the destination airport, especially with alternates.
  • Resist passenger pressure – get-there-itis.
  • CAP Aircrew: Check the gauges yourself. Prior to departure, politely ask the Mission Pilot key questions. Expect concise answers. It keeps professionalism high.
  • Sump carefully. Wait for additional fuel to settle. Failure to do so could easily result in a fatal situation on takeoff.


additional insight
Additional Insight
  • AOPA Fuel Safety Advisor
    • http://www.aopa.org/asf/publications/sa16.pdf
  • AOPA Fuel Safety Brief
    • http://www.aopa.org/asf/publications/SB04.pdf
  • Pelican’s Perch #7
    • http://www.warmkessel.com/jr/flying/td/jd/7.jsp



When it comes to fuel,

“Getting it wrong”

has consequences ranging

from embarrassing to fatal.

Be methodical. Remain aware.

Land if uncertain.