Aviation In Canada

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Fuel Starvation

"Planes that crash due to fuel exhaustion don't usually burn. A quick read through the NTSB or TSB accident reports will show how sadly common that is among private pilots."

The above sentence was a reply to a recent post to this blog. Flying magazine has an article in the current issue regarding what makes a pilot current. Those who fly, or know something about currency, know that rules involve doing certain things to stay current. A basic requirement for PPL has you make five take-offs and landings over the previous six months to be legal to take passengers (there's more to it as well), while night ratings, IFR and commercial all have their own set of similar requirements. The one thing the magazine reports as being conspicuously absent is a requirement to fill some cross country time in the log book.

Most recreational pilots, like myself, stay close to the home airport. Many never leaving the local airport. The author notes that many cross country trips by GA aircraft run into all kinds of issues with weather and such, and I've seen more than a few VFR aircraft, particularly during night cross country flights, end up lost. Fuel starvation is another critical factor. Why? Often these pilots get used to flying 1 to 2 hours flights, and "don't need" to monitor fuel gauges. They go on their first cross country flight in years and completely forget about them, since they are out of the practice of doing so once they met the requirements for licensing.

BTW, I believe the local flyer who doesn't at least glance at the fuel gauges is missing out. I know it's a long shot on the odds, but what if a fuel system deficiceny occurs? Maybe one tank drains while the other is clogged, cutting endurance by half? What about the concept of a fuel line failing and leaking? It seems like such a small investment of time and effort to spot a hugely significant problem, perhaps preventing a forced landing.

I'll close todays' post with an old axiom about Cessna fuel gauges which could be applied to anything:

Never believe fuel gauges when they say 'full'. Always believe them when they say 'empty'.