Short Final: Port Tank


I am both a pilot and a sailor. Not so long ago at an FBO, when signing in, they asked for instructions. Since I’d only used fuel from one tank my instructions were “top off the port tank.”

When I came back, I noticed that the tank was still half empty. I asked the FBO line guy what the deal was.

He said, “Sorry, sir, we couldn’t find your portable tank.”

True story. I no longer try to mix sailing and flying terms that much.

Brian Gately
Brooklyn, NY

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  1. Another example of why I use self-serve when fueling my aircraft.
    That way, my safety is not dependent on the correct interpretation by 2 other people.

  2. Port and Starboard are correct Aviation Terminology.
    The Line Person you encountered was poorly trained and unqualified.
    Using Port and Starboard instead of Left and Right ensures that there is no confusion, since Port and Starboard always mean when looking forward.
    I have personally seen confusion over Left and Right when less experienced personnel were looking the wrong way.
    Another reason that Aircraft use Engine numbering; i.e. Engine One Two, Three etc, so that is clear which engine is being referred to; it is always left to right looking forward, or more precisely, from Port to Starboard.
    Self Fuelling is always the best option! When not possible, stand there and watch.
    ALWAYS double check that tanks have been fuelled correctly; correct fuel, correct amount, properly closed.
    In one job in “interesting” places; one pilot always personally observed a fuel sample was clear of contaminants before fueling, then personally observed fuelling till it was complete; always!

    • I can understand how port and starboard was used on flying boats but am surprised it has lasted so long on aircraft. Boeing don’t use it, left and right seems more natural to me.
      The sea has a rich heritage of nautical terms and it would indeed be a shame if it fell into disuse for fear of being thought pedantic but port and starboard seems to me to be so out of place when talking about aircraft.
      Left and right doesn’t cause any confusion on cars! Not in my experience anyway!

  3. This is absolutely the first time I ever have heard port and starboard used in reference to aircraft wings or fuel tanks, and I’ve been flying for more than 52 years. My first reaction to this post was that it’s not funny and I can understand the lineman’s confusion.

  4. I got my Private Pilot’s License in 1969 and was taught “Someone LEFT the RED PORT wine on the LEFT wing.” Later, when I became an air traffic controller and I was working at night in a tower, I found myself frequently repeating that little saying.

  5. I wonder when the last time that lineman dispensed fuel into a portable tank in direct relation to an aircraft that just taxied in?
    Second, and most importantly, the term “port tank” being unfamiliar (presumably) to the lineman should have prompted him/her to ask for clarification. Bottom line; trust thyself…….

  6. Port/Starboard and Left/Right are both acceptable aviation terms although Port/Starboard is less used here in the good old USA.
    The real takeaway from this is; Pilots, please check to make sure that the FBO has fueled your aircraft the way you asked with what you asked. It is OK to trust, but ALWAYS verify, not on paper, not on the gauges but by physical means.
    Fuel exhaustion is one of the largest contributors to aircraft accidents and incidents yet it is very easily preventable.
    Sure, the lineman at the FBO should have asked since he was confused by the term Port. Fortunately, the pilot verified and found that he had not been fueled as requested then had the FBO rectify the issue. It might have been inconvenient and cost a little more time but he did it.
    After all, the number 1 responsibility of the PILOT is to ensure that there is enough fuel to complete the flight, with reserves. If you do not have that–well, let’s just say you will be parking that aircraft someplace you didn’t plan to. Hopefully, nobody gets hurt in the process.