NTSB Cites Fuel-Management Hazard

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Better fuel management by aviators could prevent an average of 50 general aviation accidents a year, the NTSB said in a GA Safety Alert issued Tuesday. “The idea of running out of fuel in an aircraft is unthinkable, and yet, it causes more accidents than anyone might imagine,” the alert notes. “Fuel management is the sixth leading cause of general aviation accidents in the U.S.” Pilot error contributed to 95 percent of the fuel-management-related accidents; equipment issues contributed to just 5 percent.

The safety board suggested several strategies that would help to reduce the number of fuel-starvation accidents. Don’t rely exclusively on fuel gauges, visually confirm the quantity of fuel in the tanks before takeoff. Know the aircraft's fuel system and how it works. Have a fuel reserve for each flight. Don’t try to stretch the fuel supply — stop and get gas. The full safety alert is posted online (PDF).

Comments (22)

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Posted by: ALBERT ALLEN | August 29, 2017 9:18 PM    Report this comment

If pilots take off without enough gas, then that pilot does not care.
Rational safety tips from the NTSB will do what exactly?
Sorry, but I don't have to care if unsafe pilots free fall headlong into asphalt parking lots (and neither should the NTSB) because no amount of care on our part could ever offset the lack of care by such pilots.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 29, 2017 9:32 PM    Report this comment

Mark,

That is an obtuse comment.

The NTSB is simply supplying data with simple recommendations to the aviation community so that it's stake holders, pilots, instructors, manufacturers, mechanics, etc can use that information to refine techniques and technology to improve safety.

I am not sure if you are a pilot, if you aren't then you should realize that no pilot has ever taken off who "Just didn't care" about running out of fuel.

If you are a pilot, yikes. If you actually do not care about pilots crashing due to fuel starvation then you just have a lack of understanding of the issue.

Lets review together a situation that could cause a pilot to run out of fuel on a flight inadvertently.

Scenario -

A pilot plans a cross country flight for that afternoon in the morning before they head to the airport, the flight is a cross country flight of about 200 miles.

The trip is planned to take them 2.5 hours with a fuel burn of 5 gallons an hour, their aircraft has 4 hours of fuel on board at that fuel burn with full tanks. When the pilot departs on their flight they are denied a transition of a Class B airspace that would have taken them on a straight line to their destination, this delay adds an additional 30 minutes to their flight.

The total flight time is now up to 3 hours, leaving 30 extra minutes of fuel after day VFR reserves.

In addition to the airspace delay, the cloud cover was lower than expected and instead of cruising at 8500 feet as planned the pilot had to descend and is now cruising at 4500 feet burning 6 gallons an hour instead of the planned 5. This means that the trip will now consume 18 gallons for the 3 hour flight. Leaving a 2 gallon reserve.

However in addition to the higher fuel burn there was no tail wind as anticipated, adding an additional 10 minutes to the flight.

This leaves the pilot arriving at their destination with less then 2 gallons of fuel on board.

The pilot is cut off by another aircraft on final and makes the good decision to go around, runs out of fuel and crash lands in a golf course next to the airport.

-----

This could happen to almost anyone.

-----

Instead of being so negative about an issue, I would invite you go join the FAASTeam and contribute to aviation safety through education of the pilot community.

It is much better to be constructive instead of reactive, after all we are all just people and sometimes people make mistakes, as pilots it is critical that we learn from not only our mistakes, but others mistakes in order to become better.

I can not attach the link to the FAASTeam website but if you visit faasafety dot gov and click "about FAASTeam" in the top right corner you can join for free.

I hope your day gets better,

Doug Auclair
NAFI Master Flight Instructor
FAA Designated Pilot Examiner

Posted by: Doug Auclair | August 30, 2017 8:51 AM    Report this comment

Mark,

That is an obtuse comment.

The NTSB is simply supplying data with simple recommendations to the aviation community so that it's stake holders, pilots, instructors, manufacturers, mechanics, etc can use that information to refine techniques and technology to improve safety.

I am not sure if you are a pilot, if you aren't then you should realize that no pilot has ever taken off who "Just didn't care" about running out of fuel.

If you are a pilot, yikes. If you actually do not care about pilots crashing due to fuel starvation then you just have a lack of understanding of the issue.

Lets review together a situation that could cause a pilot to run out of fuel on a flight inadvertently.

Scenario -

A pilot plans a cross country flight for that afternoon in the morning before they head to the airport, the flight is a cross country flight of about 200 miles.

The trip is planned to take them 2.5 hours with a fuel burn of 5 gallons an hour, their aircraft has 4 hours of fuel on board at that fuel burn with full tanks. When the pilot departs on their flight they are denied a transition of a Class B airspace that would have taken them on a straight line to their destination, this delay adds an additional 30 minutes to their flight.

The total flight time is now up to 3 hours, leaving 30 extra minutes of fuel after day VFR reserves.

In addition to the airspace delay, the cloud cover was lower than expected and instead of cruising at 8500 feet as planned the pilot had to descend and is now cruising at 4500 feet burning 6 gallons an hour instead of the planned 5. This means that the trip will now consume 18 gallons for the 3 hour flight. Leaving a 2 gallon reserve.

However in addition to the higher fuel burn there was no tail wind as anticipated, adding an additional 10 minutes to the flight.

This leaves the pilot arriving at their destination with less then 2 gallons of fuel on board.

The pilot is cut off by another aircraft on final and makes the good decision to go around, runs out of fuel and crash lands in a golf course next to the airport.

-----

This could happen to almost anyone.

-----

Instead of being so negative about an issue, I would invite you go join the FAASTeam and contribute to aviation safety through education of the pilot community.

It is much better to be constructive instead of reactive, after all we are all just people and sometimes people make mistakes, as pilots it is critical that we learn from not only our mistakes, but others mistakes in order to become better.

I can not attach the link to the FAASTeam website but if you visit faasafety dot gov and click "about FAASTeam" in the top right corner you can join for free.

I hope your day gets better,

Doug Auclair
NAFI Master Flight Instructor
FAA Designated Pilot Examiner

Posted by: Doug Auclair | August 30, 2017 8:52 AM    Report this comment

Fuel exhaustion is an insidious thing that often involves a chain of events conpsiring to bring down a plane. As Doug Auclair points out, some of them are issues that the pilot can see and react to. Good pilot training and careful fuel management discipline can address those. Unfortuately, others are more subtle and may not be obvious. For example, a line boy not firmly closing a fuel cap on a high wing plane that comes off in flight, venting fuel. Or, a diaphragm leak in a fuel pump that dumps fuel through the belly vent line unseen by the pilot while the engine continues to run. Even if you visually confirm your fuel levels before takeoff, some things can cause fuel leaks you cannot see in flight.

One reason why many pilots ignore their fuel gauges is that most GA aircraft have gauges that were not very accurate when new, and are borderline worthless 30-40 years later. Even having a fuel totalizer system won't help if the gas is disappearing before it gets to the meter. There are new technology gauge systems avaliable now that can alert the pilot if a tank is leaking or excess consumption is occuring beyond what a fuel flow indicator shows. The FAA and NTSB should aggressivley promote installing such systems on legacy aircraft and remove any regulatory barriers to make it easier (and cheaper?) to do.

It is hard to have pity on careless people who blunder through and crash when they could have prevented the situation. But, all of us deserve the best safety systems available if only the regulations permitted their widespread use.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 30, 2017 11:12 AM    Report this comment

Doug,
Another NTSB report will improve air safety? I don't see the mechanism for that. Would more product warning labels save people who don't read or follow them now?

As far as the typical flight you presented, I LAND AND GET FUEL immediately if I'm going to be on my 30 minute reserve. I don't keep pressing on to a point of zero options because that's dangerous AND it may mean crashing on a golf course! Who would want to do that? Not me. Best advice to give new pilots is "don't do something that would look stupid on an NTSB report".

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 30, 2017 1:36 PM    Report this comment

John,
The accident reports I read on fuel exhaustion show an almost universal unwillingness of pilots to make precautionary and/or unscheduled landings. They "continue on" even though they have options to land. I don't think that sophisticate instruments can overcome the problem of when pilots become passengers.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 30, 2017 1:50 PM    Report this comment

Gas makes wind; lack of wind makes pilots sweat profusely. I ain't running out of gas. I don't care the scenario, I don't care the shifting winds, ATC, low clouds or what ever happens. If I am at a ONE HOUR reserve flying in the day VFR I am already in the landing pattern of the nearest fuel stop.

Posted by: bruce postlethwait | August 30, 2017 6:31 PM    Report this comment

Mark,
I agree completely that no matter what you do, some people will press on thinking they can manage to get there, regardless of what the instruments tell them. But, if someone actually has confidence in what their instruments are telling them, they might actually make intelligent decisions. To some extent, NTSB and FAA safety efforts are like the warnings on cigarette packages - some will heed them, but many (too many) will ignore them and press on. As my sister says, "you can't fix stupid".

But, for the rest of us, the FAA should work to clear all obstacles to upgrade equipment and give us current techology fuel monitoring systems and not impede items that would enhance safety. I'm with you; I don't take chances on fuel, but I could use all the help I can get.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 30, 2017 8:16 PM    Report this comment

John,
Great gas gauges are a double-edged sword. People with low personal safety margins can just as well use great equipment to push beyond both the FAA minimums as well as personal minimums (because now they have a display that tells them that they can land with 3.025 ounces of fuel remaining). Meanwhile, the pilots who never have fuel issues won't benefit at all because they also have a $5 kitchen timer, a performance chart, and a healthy personal safety margin.

Like your salient quote "you can't fix stupid" alludes to, I don't think that fuel relate problems will ever be addressed by reasonable people making reasonable recommendations. Reasonable people don't need to be told again and will already use better equipment to better ends; unreasonable people who end up out of gas may only remember that quote shortly before impact...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 30, 2017 8:56 PM    Report this comment

There are only two instance in which too much fuel is a problem: 1) heavy take-off, 2) fire on board.

Posted by: Bill Corcoran | August 31, 2017 10:44 AM    Report this comment

Let actually look at data and not opinion about what does and doesn't work

The NTSB bulletin mentioned that a disproportionate number of pilots had higher ratings - interesting
The NTSB bulletin said that a change in flight plan was a significant contributor

Most fuel related accidents occur in Cruise Flight - Fact - "Get there itis" is a pilots inference to what might have happened.

Most - 99% of pilots preflight with a visual fuel inspection on every flight - Fact

Aircraft with digital fuel indication and systems are not involved in fuel related incidents or accident. also a fact - So technology appears to offer a significant benefit

When you look that a change in flight plan is a fairly regular occurrence, coupled with an actual knowledge of how much fuel is in the tanks and where it is located - pilots appear to make better decisions - that is factual

Over 3,000 general aviation aircraft fly with digital fuel quantity -

Posted by: Scott Philiben | August 31, 2017 3:23 PM    Report this comment

If 3,000 GA aircraft fly with digital gauges, that is good. But, what about the other 99% of us? My point is that I am (and most responsible pilots are) willing to upgrade to better gauges that help make better decisions. Instead of lectures from the FAA and NTSB about responsible fuel management, how about clearing the way so that we can have access to devices that help us be more responsible. They seem to be willing to do so with attitude indicators, autopilots and fancy GPS displays, why not go for other safety enhancing equipment?

The same pilots that press on with gauges reading zero will fly into weather that a duck would avoid. I can't help them, but am willing to help myself.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 31, 2017 4:30 PM    Report this comment

They did, clear the way, it just didn't get as much press. The issue was that fuel quantity had a specific regulation for the aircraft FAR 23.1305 & FAR 23.1337 (yes there are CAR equivalents) and operationally from FAR 91.205. So they couldn't use NORSEE like AOA It had to get a full evaluation

Frankly it isn't as sexy as inexpensive EFIS or engine instruments

Google Twitter FAAnews reliable fuel gauge

Posted by: Scott Philiben | August 31, 2017 5:03 PM    Report this comment

"Aircraft with digital fuel indication and systems are not involved in fuel related incidents or accident. also a fact"

Wrong.
That's not a fact at all; you made that up.
I personally know of several private planes that have them and have crashed from fuel exhaustion. I have read of airliners that have digital systems and had fuel exhaustion (most notably Air Canada Flight 143). Point is that digital gauges don't help people who are intent on pressing on regardless of what the gauges read or what would be prudent.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 31, 2017 6:44 PM    Report this comment

No it is not wrong

Nope that is an actual fact

Yes pilots crash with digital fuel totalizers - fuel totalizers are not required instrumentation
and fuel totalizers are not fuel gauges - fuel totalizers rely on an input for fuel quantity from the pilot

As for digital fuel quantity - All Cirrus starting in 2012 and all Cessna Starting in 2011

NOT ONE SINGLE AIRCRAFT OF THE ABOVE WITH A FUEL STARVATION ACCIDENT OR INCIDENT.

Aircraft landing on the road are not necessarily an accident and most are not recorded - so a complete data set of all

"PRESSING ON" is a pilot rationalization for what they believed happened -

FACT MOST fuel related accidents 47% happen in CRUISE flight
FACT ONLY 18% happen on DESCENT - have of those on FINAL APPROACH.
FACT 35% Happen in TAKE OFF and CLIMB

The GIMLI GLIDER had no working fuel indication in the cockpit - only drip stick calculations. This was illegal and not consistent with the MEL. This proves that Professional pilots can run big iron aircraft out of fuel based on erroneous pre flight calculations when they have non functional fuel indication.

Fuel gauges suck in GA aircraft, that is a well known fact. A pilot looking at traditional resistive gauges hoping that just this once they are working - is a complete fool

So if most of the GA landing gear were broken or barely working - you would kind of expect that GA aircraft would have a lot of landing accidents. This makes rational sense - so the correllary

Non working fuel indication in GA leads to bad decision making

To prove this - go up to and tell a non pilot that most GA aircraft have fuel indication that you as a pilot wouldn't trust. Ask them what they think, most likely what you'll get in response is a quizzical look and they will tell you to your face something on the order "wouldn't a lot of aircraft run out of fuel if that were the case"

DUH

Posted by: Scott Philiben | August 31, 2017 7:13 PM    Report this comment

"Aircraft with digital fuel indication and systems are not involved in fuel related incidents or accident"
"Yes pilots crash with digital fuel totalizers"

Wow, you have wheels on those goal posts?! LOL.

The GIMLI GLIDER had working fuel indication in the cockpit; they simply did not believe what they were seeing. Again, this was the BEST instrumented aircraft at the time and the pilots chose NOT to believe their perfect indication that they did not have enough fuel till it was too late.

I have non-pilots ask me about accidents all the time. I don't defend idiot pilots that run out of gas or do equally dumb things. These idiot pilots give the rest of us a bad name.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 31, 2017 8:07 PM    Report this comment

Herein lies an issue It is common for pilots to confuse themselves - hence the issue

I talk to human "so called idiot" pilots all day and really calling them idiots is a mental tactic you are using to virtually separate yourself from those pilots that run out of fuel. Good luck with that strategy, As I believe you to be human and therefore capable of human error.

I can tell you as a fact that you only have to look in the mirror to see the next fuel starved or exhausted pilot. This issue affects pilots of all mental capacity and capability - IE there is not a huge element of social darwinism as you believe - . Pilots as a rule are not suicidal

So here is your interesting logic of movable goal posts - and another point of pilot confusion

ONE - A Digital Fuel Totalizer - (Not Required but believed by most pilots)

TWO - Digital fuel quantity system Fuel Gauge & Fuel Senders (Required instrumentation)

These are different independant systems - and they can be used to cross check if reliable

Same is true on the Gimli Glider

ONE - The crew put the wrong information in the fuel computer (fuel totalizer) mistaking lbs fuel and Kg

TWO - The fuel quantity system on both sides was INOP (Read Below)

A record of all actions and findings was made in the maintenance log, including the entry; "SERVICE CHK - FOUND FUEL QTY IND BLANK - FUEL QTY #2 C/B PULLED & TAGGED...".[15] This reports that the fuel gauges were blank and that the second FQIS channel was disabled, but does not make clear that the latter fixed the former.

On entering the cockpit, Captain Pearson saw what he was expecting to see: blank fuel gauges and a tagged circuit breaker. Pearson consulted the master minimum equipment list (MMEL), which indicated that the aircraft was not legal to fly with blank fuel gauges but due to a misunderstanding, Pearson believed that it was safe to fly if the amount of fuel was confirmed with measuring sticks.[16]


So much is BS public pilot opinion - so little fact

Posted by: Scott Philiben | August 31, 2017 8:27 PM    Report this comment

I've never had a fuel issue when flying in 40+ years.
I don't have "human error" because It's even more basic than density altitude.
Know how much gas is on board before you take off and know how much you need.
If it's close, land and get more gas.
DUH!

The GIMLI GLIDER was used to show that planes with sophisticated and accurate systems HAVE CRASHED. Hello? You said that it was a fact that they have not crashed.
Q.E.D.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 31, 2017 8:57 PM    Report this comment

For the love of God - the Gimli Glider crash landed - it had disconnected and inop fuel gauges. The pilots relied on the fuel totalizer and erroneous starting fuel quantity. THESE ARE TWO SEPARATE SYSTEMS. The fuel totalizer, lead this crew astray, their first indication of low fuel level was a pressure warning just prior to engine shut down - in CRUISE flight.

The pilots I know that never believe that will run out of fuel are pilots that always fill the tanks - regardless of aircraft W&B and only fly for 2.5 hrs max.

If you utilize the aircraft capability or fly within the legal weight limitations - working fuel gauges can offer you a capability to make better decisions. It would have saved the GIMLI GLIDER

Why is this such a difficult concept to grasp.

Posted by: Scott Philiben | September 1, 2017 11:21 AM    Report this comment

Wow, I think we need a time out...

My original point was to illustrate that there are conditions that can occur in flight that could deplete fuel faster than anticipated. A personal example: I consider myself a careful pilot. I stick my tanks prior to each flight and have a personal minimum that I will not take off with less than 15 gallons in each wing tank, even for a short hop. Also, I will not fly to a destination that leaves me with less than 10 gallons in each upon landing. Otherwise, I will make a fuel stop.

About 18 months ago, after landing from a short trip, I noticed something dripping from beneath the plane. Upon investigation, it was the relief drain from the engine fuel pump. Apparently, the fuel side diaphragm in the pump had split and was leaking fuel into the interstice, which is drained out the relief tube. With the engine off, it was a slow drip. With the engine running it was a much faster drip. However, the engine ran normally and the factory fuel flow instrument did not show any unusual readings. My digital fuel flow gauge was also normal since it only reads engine consumption, not fuel pump output. I don't know when the pump developed the leak, but on a long cross country, it is certainly possible that the leak could have resulted in a fuel exhaustion event. Since the factory fuel quantity gauges are highly inaccurate, they might not have shown a problem. Modern gauges, like those in the Cirrus, that are connected to the engine monitor would have shown a disparity in range and fuel remaining, and would have been a red flag to a problem. Yes, I am careful, but I will still take all the help I can get.

Posted by: John McNamee | September 1, 2017 12:26 PM    Report this comment

"Why is this such a difficult concept to grasp."

Why not ask yourself.
You said that aircraft with digital fuel indication and systems are not involved in fuel related incidents or accident. Here was and example where a very well equipped plane was involved in such an accident. Point is that better gauges will not overcome pilotage and, in fact, may lead less savy pilots astray.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 3, 2017 9:53 PM    Report this comment

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