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Almost is not enough when it comes to fuel managementAlmost is not enough when it comes to fuel management


Fuel mismanagement accidents are occurring at a rate of more than three per week. The following accident underscores the need for proper preflight planning, plus the importance of evaluating fuel consumption in flight.

On February 28, 2004, a Cessna T210M was substantially damaged during a forced landing following a loss of engine power near Grape Creek, Texas. Visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed, while an IFR flight plan was filed for the 580-nautical-mile business trip. The flight originated from Greeley, Colorado (GXY), and was destined for the San Angelo Regional Airport (SJT), near San Angelo, Texas.

Approaching San Angelo, the pilot notified air traffic control that he was critically low on fuel and requested a straight-in approach. The pilot was then vectored for a surveillance approach, and cleared to descend to an altitude of 4,300 feet msl. Nine minutes after reporting critical fuel, the pilot radioed that the engine was "quitting" and said, "We're out gas...we're out of gas." He descended in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) and reached an approximate altitude of 3,000 feet msl (about 1,100 feet agl). The controller informed the pilot that there was a highway about 3 nm south of his position and ranches in the vicinity.

Once the pilot broke out of the clouds and saw the ground, he turned the airplane into the wind and landed in a partially obstructed field. Upon landing, the airplane hit mesquite trees.

Examination of the airplane revealed the right fuel tank contained about one cup of fuel, and no fuel was in the left tank. Both the left and right fuel caps were secure and intact.

The pilot reported that he had completed a preflight and checked all fuel tanks to make sure they were full prior to departing. The NTSB report did not contain any information regarding whether the pilot completed any fuel calculations prior to departure. When he was about 20 miles northeast of the San Angelo Airport at 11,000 feet msl, the engine stopped producing power.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident was the pilot's improper in-flight planning, which resulted in a loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion.

At the time of the accident, the pilot had accumulated more than 6,500 hours of flight experience.

Fuel exhaustion is an easily preventable accident, yet in 2003, more than 147 accidents resulted from poor fuel management. Calculating endurance before the flight and double-checking it in the air is imperative, especially during a long cross-country. If you are unsure about how much fuel is left, land and refuel.

For more information about fuel management, see the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Fuel Awareness Safety Advisor.

This accident report as well as others can be found in ASF's Online Database.

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