Fuel Low - 'Been there, done that, got the
by Harlan Gray Sparrow III
permission from FAA Aviation News
Yeah, I know. How could anyone run low on fuel, especially if they had done any
flight planning at all? Well, I have a long list of reasons, starting with
un-forecasted head winds, engine runs rich, fuel gauge shows more fuel than is
in the tank, aircraft is a rental, aircraft isn't rigged right, forward CG,
mixture cable is out of adjustment'the list is probably endless. My all time
favorite is the refueler didn't fill up the tank. Duh!
Since I have one of the 'Fuel Low' T-shirts, I
will share with you how I plan on not getting another one. Oh, I guess you are
wondering how I got mine. Well, there I was making an over water flight from
Jamaica to the United States and encountered an un-forecasted headwind. Instead
of landing on an island en route, which would have been an unpleasant option
(Customs), I continued on to my destination. I informed ATC at my destination
that I was 'minimum fuel.' They acknowledged and said I was number six for the
approach. Fortunately, I got cleared for the approach and landing before I had
to declare an emergency. From then on, when in doubt, I have stopped for fuel,
but that's not the only way to avoid it happening again.
Now having trained in the military, I learned a
couple of things about how to do flight planning. Later on, one of my first
civilian instructors, Larry Joe Yon, tried very hard to instill in me the
importance of flight planning the civilian way. As it turns out, fuel on board,
no matter whether you are civilian or military, is all the same. Larry was
patient with me and was able to convince me of the importance of having a plan
and then flying your plan. He reminded me to be careful to check and recheck my
flight plan estimates en route in order to be able to make timely adjustments.
Not really a hard concept to grasp, if you set aside your ego and a little hard
headiness. Larry further stressed that flight planning doesn't just stop at
looking over the chart and picking airports to stop for fuel. Today, more than
ever, it would pay to call the airports to check on fuel availability and, of
course, method of payment. A visual check of your fuel tanks after refueling is
a must. The only accurate fuel gauge I know of is the one that says empty when
the engine quits. By the way, GPS is probably one of the best additions you
could have in your aircraft today. The accuracy of these devices sure makes
flight planning an easier task while providing numerous options in the way of
available airports en route.
Over the years, I have attended numerous safety
seminars, many which were targeted at flight planning. You would think that the
FAA and other safety-oriented groups would finally get tired of talking about
flight planning and fuel management. Well, it seems that in spite of their
efforts, we (that's all of us pilots) still manage to run low on fuel, run out
of fuel, or mismanage fuel. The latest NALL Report (courtesy of AOPA Air Safety
Foundation), which shows accident trends and factors for 2004, indicates that
there were 79 (four fatal) accidents as a result of fuel exhaustion. Although
easily preventable, there were 39 (seven fatal) fuel starvation accidents as
well in 2004. It would seem there is a trend, because in 2003 there were 90
(nine fatal) accidents as a result of fuel exhaustion and 41 (five fatal)
accidents caused by fuel starvation. There is a simple answer to all of this.
Rule Number One: plan on landing with at least one hour of fuel on board. This
is on top of any regulatory requirements that may be in effect such as day,
night, VFR, IFR, and alternate. Now I realize that if it were that simple we
wouldn't have so many fuel related mishaps.
Every year there are many thousands of us who
travel to and from Lakeland, Florida, (Sun & Fun' Fly-In) and Oshkosh, Wisconsin
(EAA AirVenture - Fly-In). Unfortunately each year several pilots will earn a
'Fuel Low' T-shirt. As my friend used to tell me, 'When in doubt, duck, or in
this case refer to Rule Number One.'
This article is dedicated to all of the flight
instructors out there who have made a difference.
Harlan Gray Sparrow III is an Aviation Safety
Inspector in Flight Standards' Air Transportation Division.