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Safety Review of Proper Fuel Management

Safety Review of Proper Fuel Management, October 2016Nearly three GA accidents happen per week as a result of fuel exhaustion, starvation, or contamination, according to the AOPA Air Safety Institute. The good news is that these accidents are largely preventable.

Here are some basic fuel management safety tips and reminders from the FAA. Refer to your pilot’s operating handbook for details on your specific aircraft and fuel system.

Fuel and Fuel Systems

  • Make sure the fuel in the tank is “proper” fuel, uncontaminated, and in with sufficient quantity to avoid fuel starvation or exhaustion.
  • “Active” fuel management is required throughout all phases of flight.
  • Aviation gas (Avgas) grades are as follows: red = 80 octane, green = 100 octane, and blue = 100 octane low lead. Jet fuel is either clear or straw colored.
  • Auto gas may be used in aircraft that has been authorized by STC.
  • Any mixture of jet fuel and Avgas is absolutely unacceptable for reciprocating engines, as the engine will be destroyed through the action of detonation.
  • Be sure you’re getting the right fuel every time you refill.
  • Mechanical safeguards help prevent misfueling. One is a restrictor ring attached to the tank opening. It is smaller than most jet fuel nozzles, making misfueling almost impossible.
  • Most jet fuel nozzles are shaped to prevent their insertion into Avgas openings.
  • Today, most aircraft have two fuel tanks, left and right. Some systems include a main tank and an auxiliary tank.
  • All systems are equipped with a control valve: on/off on single tank systems, and a selector valve in multiple tank systems. Refer to your handbook for information on your system’s fuel lines, strainers, filters, and low point drain.
  • A vent system on each tank allows air to enter the space vacated by consumed fuel.
  • The fuel in some high wing aircraft flows by gravity to the engine.
  • On low wing aircraft, engine-driven pumps keep fuel flowing to the engine.
  • There may also be boosts, or auxiliary pumps operated electrically.
  • The pressure of the flowing fuel is indicated by one or more pressure gauges to show you how the pumping system is operating.

Fuel Management

  • Fuel management begins when you are planning a flight. Your primary concern is determining the fuel requirement for the flight.
  • Start by determining the distances to your destination. Take into account whether the route will be straight, or circuitous, as around MOAs, or other restricted areas.
  • Refer to your fuel consumption records. If you don’t have the figures, use the pilot’s operating handbook or information manual.
  • Know your plan at true air speed. Take into account the forecast wind at cruising altitude. You may also consider the endurance limits of your passengers, which may be shorter than your aircraft’s fuel range.
  • Pick a few check points along the route and estimate the EPA to each one, so as you come to each one, you can calculate fuel consumption.
  • Smart pilots always pick alternate destinations, with enough reserve fuel.
  • FAA daytime VFR requires that there be enough fuel to fly to your first planned point of landing, and for 30 minutes thereafter at normal cruise air speed.
  • Nighttime VFR requires that you have 45 minutes of reserve fuel at normal cruise speed, after the first point of intended landing.
  • These margins are minimums, and you should allow more.

For more information on fuel management, see the FAA’s “Time in Your Tanks” document.

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