Sunday, January 08, 2012

Pilots need to know fuel system: watchdog. Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Pilots need to be more rigorous in checking how much fuel their aircraft has before take-off and how much it uses in flight, the transport safety watchdog says.

Poor management of fuel in operating some aircraft continues to pose serious risk they will run out of fuel before they land, says the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

An average of 21 incidents involving fuel mismanagement have been reported each year over the past 10 years.

However, the ATSB says the actual number of incidents is probably higher because not all involve power cutting out.

Its report on fuel mismanagement incidents, released on Monday, found they were most likely to happen in private or charter flight operations, which normally run with the minimum fuel required.

In the decade from 2001 to 2010, there were 10 deaths and 18 serious injuries in crashes resulting from fuel starvation.

This occurs when there is enough fuel to finish the flight but for some reason the supply to the engine is interrupted.

The other type of incident is known as fuel exhaustion, when the aircraft runs out of fuel before reaching its destination.

While 82 per cent of fuel exhaustion incidents resulted in the forced or precautionary landings, no-one was hurt or killed.

The bureau said it was possible that fuel starvation incidents more often resulted in death or injury because when pilots had to work out the reason for the engine failure they did not necessarily expect it was because of a fuel supply problem.

This could be helped if pilots ensured they were fully familiar with their aircraft's fuel system.

It recommended the best way to avoid fuel starvation was for pilots to make sure they stick to procedures, including keeping a fuel log, and to know how their aircrafts' fuel supply worked.

The bureau's report noted that the more fuel tanks a plane has, the greater potential there is to select one that doesn't have enough fuel in it.

"A pilot may forget, but if fuel selections are written down, then the fuel log can act as an effective reminder," the report states.

It also highlights the importance of pilots carefully adhering to pre-flight and descent checks.

To avoid fuel exhaustion, the bureau said pilots needed to be more rigorous in cross-checking how much fuel was on board before taking off.

It also recommends pilots think of the amount of fuel in terms of flight time.

"If fuel is thought of as `time in the tanks' instead of a quantity, then diversions or stronger headwinds will not affect the time remaining," it states.


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