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Fuelish MistakeFuelish Mistake


NTSB SEA01LA037 - On January 10, 2001, a flight instructor learned a valuable lesson about who is PIC on instructional flights when the Grumman American AA-1B he and a student were flying was destroyed on impact with terrain following fuel exhaustion. The student pilot and the flight instructor both sustained serious injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident.

The student stated that during the preflight, he "checked the fuel levels prior to flight that day by visually observing the sight tubes for each tank." The student and the instructor believed they had two hours of fuel onboard. The student's logbook showed four flights in the accident airplane, but no flights had been recorded for the eight months leading to the accident. The CFI had 903 hours of dual given, and .9 hours in the Grumman AA-1B.

The pair had done some air work, including slow flight and power off stalls, then proceeded to a nearby airport for some practice landings. The first approach resulted in a go-around due to a helicopter on the runway. After the go-around, they proceeded to the departure airport for more pattern work. The first touch and go was completed, during which the student applied full power, moved the carburetor heat to the 'OFF' position, and brought the flaps up. At approximately 200 feet AGL, the engine stopped. The CFI took control of the aircraft, and the student began to troubleshoot the engine failure. The student switched the fuel tanks and turned on the fuel boost pump. He did not have time to activate the starter prior to impact.

In recreating the flights leading up to the accident, the NTSB determined that approximately 7.4 HOBBS hours had been flown on 35.6 gallons of available fuel. This results in a fuel burn of approximately 4.81 gallons per hour. The operating manual for the Lycoming O-235-C2C installed on the aircraft indicates fuel consumption of between 5.3 and 5.9 gallons per hour during operations at 2,500 above sea level. The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the flight instructor's failure to ensure the student had an adequate supply of fuel available, and the student's failure to refuel the aircraft, which resulted in fuel exhaustion.

Fuel exhaustion accidents occur at a rate of more than one per week. This accident provides two important lessons, one for all pilots and one particularly for instructors. For all pilots, it is important to know how much fuel you have on board prior to lift off, and to land with your reserves unused. ASF recommends planning to land with one hour of fuel onboard for day VFR flights. This is double what the FAA requires. For instructors, it serves as a stark reminder of who has the final responsibility on dual instructional flights.

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

More information on fuel exhaustion can be found in ASF's Safety Advisor "Fuel Awareness".

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