Handling aircraft fuel must be done according to local airport safety regulations and rules. If not done properly the results can be really devastating to you and others.
Aircraft fuel is highly combustible and burning AVgas is only useful to us inside an engine while trying to rotate the propeller.
And with current fuel prices, any aircraft left parked overnight on an apron seem easy targets for fuel thieves these days. A small investment in lockable fuel caps is really worthwhile.
Make sure that you refuel with the proper fuel type!!
AVgas or gasoline engines are not designed to use JET or diesel fuel. Some gas turbine engines are able to use AVgas but with limitations on temperatures.
You will need to check the engine manual to see if it is allowed in case of emergency. Here we are going to discuss practices for handling aviation fuel in a safe way.
Safety first when refueling
Fuel servicing personnel is according regulations trained in the safe operation of fueling equipment. As a pilot refueling your own aircraft you should observe at least the following guidelines:
- Check the color and type of fuel before the actual delivery. 100 octane aviation gasoline (AVgas) is green and 100 octane low lead AVgas is blue. Jet fuel is usually clear, but sometimes it is a very light yellow color as is normal road diesel and biodiesel. Red diesel is, well, colored red.
- No smoking within at least 50 feet of an aircraft.
- Refuel outside only. Remember: when refueling an aircraft within a closed hanger a situation could develop where the combination of air and fuel vapors are very explosive! One spark due to static electricity and your flight will end prematurely.
- The aircraft and fueling vehicles or equipment should be bonded together to dissipate static electricity collected during refueling.
- Always keep fire extinguishers nearby.
- Portable electronic devices should be switched off (cellphones, radio's, pagers).
- If a spill occurs, refueling should be stopped and the airport fire department notified, if necessary.
- Ground power units should not be connected or disconnected during refueling.
- Persons refueling aircraft should not carry lighters or matches when refueling.
- At the first sight of lightning in the area, refueling operations should be suspended.
- Refueling may not be conducted with passengers on board the aircraft.
- Avoid contact with fuel. The health risks are high if fuel gets into your body, this is possible via the eyes, skin contact, ingestion of via inhalation. Get medical help if this happens.
- AVgas refueling must not be done with the engines running (hot refueling) and be careful if hot refueling with JET A.
- Make sure the fuel nozzle is clean and keep dirt and water away from the fuel caps, also support the nozzle preventing damage to the wing tank.
- Replace the fuel caps securely, loosing a cap in flight will guarantee a loss of fuel and possible wing damage.
- Wait some 30 minutes before sampling fuel, gently rock the wings so that any water and debris can settle near the sample port.
When refueling your aircraft from jerry cans (NATO style or the plastic containers) it is best to use a good filter before pouring fuel into the tanks. Mr. Funnel sells (via aircraft parts suppliers) a very good electrically conductive fuel, water and debris filter/separator. They come in different capacities in terms of flow capacity (up to 15 USG/m). Recommended!
Make sure that when refueling from drums the standpipe does not reach to the lowest point in the drum, water and dirt will collect there. These last liters should not be needed. The drum should be positioned like this: Set the drum on end tilted and chock it with the high side at 12 o'clock, the bung at three and vent at nine o'clock, this makes sure that water and dirt stays away from the standpipe.
Never use plastic containers to refuel aircraft, they build up static electricity easily during refueling and one spark and some fuel vapors is enough for a disaster. Read more on fuel and refueling in this Aviation Fueling Handbook from the Alaska Division of Forestry, it's a must read.
After refueling, move your aircraft away from the fuel station and do not leave it sitting there. Someone else might want to refuel and is it more than nice to clear the pumps when ready refueling.
Some aircraft have such limitations that it is not always possible to load four people with baggage and full fuel for a long trip. This might happen when the airplane was topped up the night before and you arrive with three passengers for a trip the next morning. The only option could then be (apart from a different aircraft) to defuel the airplane. This can be done by:
- pumping excess duel into drums by a hand pump, make sure the suction end is clean before inserting it into the aircraft tanks
- or by opening the drain points and let the fuel run via a funnel with filter into a container suitable for aviation fuel
- if you defuel and store AVgas keep in mind that the shelf life is about a year (commercial operators) due to gum forming caused by oxidation
Make sure to take every safety precaution when defueling the aircraft as the dangers remain the same as with refueling.