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Stopped ShortStopped Short

Fuel MismanagementFuel Mismanagement

ASIThe recent crash of a Falcon 20 near St. Louis underscores the importance of carrying enough fuel. It is too soon to speculate on the details of this particular accident, but fuel mismanagement is a leading cause of GA accidents. Fuel mismanagement usually occurs in one of two ways - either not having enough total fuel on board, or not switching to the full fuel tank. Two fully investigated accidents from two years ago this month illustrate these points.

On April 6, 2001, the engine in a Cessna 210M stopped when the airplane was about 100 feet above the ground on final approach. The pilot attempted a restart by switching fuel tanks, turning on the boost pump, and moving the throttle and mixture controls full forward. Power could not be restored. The plane landed approximately thirty feet short of the runway, and the gear collapsed when it contacted the six-inch lip of the runway pavement. The pilot stated that he "neglected to switch to the other tank", which was half full prior to his approach. The NTSB-determined cause of this accident was fuel starvation due to the failure of the pilot to switch fuel tanks.

Just six days later, a Cessna 150 flown by a student pilot crashed on takeoff after running out of fuel. After completing a dual night cross country that lasted 3.8 hours, the student and his CFI decided to do a few touch and goes. The pilot told the NTSB he had calculated the fuel required for the flight using POH fuel burn figures of 4.0 to 4.6 gallons per hour. Based on these numbers, the pilot "knew" he "had enough calculated fuel to complete the flight," but the owner of the aircraft told the NTSB that the aircraft "never used less than 6 gallons per hour."

In 2000 there were 133 fuel related accidents in fixed wing aircraft weighing less the 12,500 pounds and this year's just-released Nall Report tallied 114 for '01. (Large GA aircraft, such as the Falcon 20, are not included in the ASF Accident Database because they are not under 12,500 pounds). To learn more about this common problem see ASI's safety advisor on Fuel Awareness.

You can also read about fuel mismanagement in the following articles from Bruce Landsberg's Safety Pilot department in AOPA Pilot:

Article Title Specific Subject Month/Year
Dry-Tank Disasters  Fuel mismanagement accidents/ASF seminar Aug. 2001
Too Little, Too Late  Bad WX, fuel exhaustion
BE55 landing FTY
Mar. 1996
Avgas: Good to the Last Drop  Fuel starvation/exhaustion Feb. 1993

Accident reports can be found in ASI's Online Database.

Originally published: April 18, 2003.