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Training Tip: Safeguards that didn'tTraining Tip: Safeguards that didn't

A student pilot observes something strange while walking across the airport ramp: A line attendant is fueling a Skyhawk from the fixed-base operator’s jet fuel truck.

Pilots must remain observant to ensure proper refueling of their aircraft, even with safeguards such as labeling and differing nozzle sizes for fuel types. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Is this the beginning of an engine-failure-after-takeoff scenario, caused by misfueling?

 Possibly. Or the airplane receiving fuel could be a new diesel-powered model, or an older model for which a supplemental type certificate authorizes retrofit with a jet-fuel-burning engine.

As powerplant options for new-production aircraft, and retrofits of the older fleet, expand, line personnel and pilots must refocus their efforts to ensure that aircraft receive the correct fuel.

A quick glance at an aircraft may not be enough to tell the fuel staff which truck to dispense from—and the pilot may not always be present for fueling, although the pilot should.

Labels located near the fuel filler ports are one safeguard against what could be a very consequential fueling error.

Another safeguard is an attentive, knowledgeable line staffer.

Hardware plays a role. The industry-enforced incompatibility of fuel hoses for one kind of fuel with the fuel filler ports of another—jet fuel nozzles are oversized for avgas fuel tanks—provides another safeguard.

Still, there have been cases in which safeguards failed.

When a piston-powered twin-engine Cessna 421 flying as an air ambulance was mistakenly fueled with jet fuel instead of 100 octane low-lead avgas in August 2014, customary precautions didn’t prevent a calamitous accident.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s accident report, the pilot “was present during the refueling and helped the line service technician replace both fuel caps.”

Also, there were “avgas only” labels located near the fuel filler ports.

Another safeguard wasn’t overlooked; it was missing: “In accordance with voluntary industry standards, the FBO's jet fuel truck should have been equipped with an oversized fuel nozzle; instead, it was equipped with a smaller diameter nozzle, which allowed the nozzle to be inserted into the smaller fuel filler ports on airplanes that used aviation gasoline. The FBO's use of a small nozzle allowed it to be inserted in the accident airplane's filler port and for jet fuel to be inadvertently added to the airplane.”

The NTSB said the line technician and the pilot failed in their “joint responsibility” to ensure proper refueling.

Promise yourself to never forget the best safeguard: Pilot vigilance—that is, your vigilance.

Does your fuel awareness safeguard your flying? Comment on this topic at

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Fuel Awareness, Power and Fuel, Accident
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