Monday, December 18, 2006

My friend had to write up a report to his Chief Pilot a while back, and he was kind enough to show me a copy. I found it interesting as they fly a similar aircraft, and only having 450 lbs of fuel on landing in our Citation 550's would have me sweating.

In our operation, we need to carry enough fuel on board to make our destination, attempt and miss an approach, then go to an alternate airport where the weather is forecast to be decent, and then have 30 minutes of fuel on top of that. It might sound like a lot, but it's really not much extra gas at all.

Where I work, we also have a company directive that states we shall not commence any flight unless we plan to land with at least a thousand pounds of fuel. I think that's great.

Anyway, on to the report. You can see that it could have been a lot worse, and I'm glad my friend made it in safely, if only because he still owes me $15 :)

We departed CY** with 4,500 lbs of fuel as per computerized flight plan. We needed 4,300 but we added 200 lbs more as ‘just-in-case’ fuel. During our initial climb out from CY**, our fuel burn was higher than predicted as the ATC controllers had kept us lower than normal for nearly an hour. Crossing CY**, we had burned 125 lbs more than expected. Enroute, the favorable tailwinds that the flight planning software had anticipated were not as strong as forecast, and we were airborne for nearly 30 minutes longer than we had expected. I was in the left seat during our initial approach to CY**, which had a ceiling of ~1,000’ and good visibility underneath. As we approached within 25 miles of CY**, the right tank low fuel light came on, and I noted that we would be landing with 700 lbs of fuel. As we prepared for landing and were roughly 2 miles final for runway 23, we noted an aircraft still on the runway. Tower told us to pull up and go around as the traffic wouldn’t be airborne by the time we touched down, and as I advanced the thrust levers to go-around, I noted and remarked on the left tank low-fuel light illuminating. I told (F/o's name) to declare minimum fuel, and he told ATC that we were “tight on gas” The approach controller said we were number 3 on approach, and that it would be at least 10 miles before we could turn back to the field. (F/o's name) again told ATC that we were low on fuel, and ATC told us that if we declared an emergency we would have priority. I was quite concerned about our fuel state, as we were indicating ~550lbs of fuel, but (F/o's name) thought we would be okay in the approach sequence. ATC said “If you declare an emergency, we can turn you toward the field right now, otherwise it will be 2 more miles before we can turn you base.” (F/o's name) said something like “We’ll take the base turn”, which ATC then took to mean that we were declaring an emergency, though I think (F/o's name) had meant we were okay for another 2 miles before turning base. ATC immediately pulled 2 Air Canada planes off the approach and cleared us direct the field. We landed without incident, and taxied in, where (F/o's name) called ATC on the phone. When we shut down, the fuel was indicating roughly 450 lbs, and both low fuel lights had been on for several minutes.


Anonymous said...

Step two is to open a spreadsheet and start messing around with numbers, until they have a convincing story for Transport Canada showing that they really did depart with legal IFR reserves, based on the information they had at the time.

Jim Howard said...

For heaven's sake if you need priority you need to ask for it! The best way to ask for priority is to use the word 'emergency' in the United States and 'Mayday' in any other country (I don't know about Canada.)

I take it your friend's FO never heard of Avianca Flight 52.

There is no problem declaring an emergency if you need priority.

I blame Earnest K. Gann for this phobia that some pilots have about the 'e word'. So many pilots read his books at an early age, and along with all the very postive things in them, he imparts this silly notion that real pilots never need to ask for help.

I've declared three emergencies in my life, one in an EF-111 and two in a Piper Archer.

In the EF-111 I had to fill out a one page incident report that was filed and forgotten.

In the Archer I never heard a word from the FAA about either incident.

What are pilots afraid will happen to them if they do the safe and sane thing and declare when they need priority?

Anonymous said...

Interesting story. I agree 100% with Jim's comment that pilot's should not be scared to use the "e" word - I'd rather fill out some paperwork due to being cautious and declaring an emergency than to have my bosses fill in insurance paperwork after I'm dead from an accident that maybe could have been averted.

I think you may have mentioned it at one point, and I suppose I could just google it, but what do you typically flight plan for in terms of fuel burned per hour?

zb said...

Oh, I love this story. The problem is that, in aviation, emergencies are used as a tool to measure a crew's quality. If a pilot often declares emergencies, he must be of bad quality, so the wisdom says. In engineering and produciton, it is the same. When the assembly line often files 'reports of unacceptable quality', management tends to think the assembly people suck. The consequence is that they will just nail the stuff together and sell it, knowing that there are problems. If they would openly speak about the problems because they would be encouraged to do so, engineers might learn about them and do something about the design, which, in the long run, would be far better than just curing the symptoms.

If something does go wrong, please forget about your pride and declare an emergency or file a report. If you are a boss and your pilots declare emergencies or your workers tell you about design faults, you should be proud of these people for their responsibility.

I would like to thank joel for having highlited this to me in many great articles, one of which is here:

Sulako said...

It really depends on how long the leg is and how high they let us climb. If we are going to New York and they only let us climb to FL290 and then start descending us 150 miles back, then we'll easily burn 1,600 lbs for an hour flight.

If we are going to Nassau and get up to FL360 to start, then work our way to FL380 or FL400 after a couple of hours, we'll burn 3,800 lbs for a 4 hour flight.

Windsor said...

Anything less than 1000lbs causes my pucker factor to increase exponentially. Your friend did the right thing. Better to declare than to end up short. Suppose another plane took too much time on the runway again and they were told to go missed a second time. Besides, if they departed with enough fuel for the planned trip, they are 100% legal. Its not their fault ATC held them low and the winds were not as forcasted. They can land with no gas and still be legal as long as they left with the required amount.

aluwings said...

I thought the specific term "minimum fuel" was implemented a few years back to account exactly for spots like that -- i.e. it's not a 'we'er falling out of the sky' emergency yet, but it will be if something good doesn't happen soon...? I'll have to go review the AIM. I've always found US controllers to be much more helpful than their Canadian counterparts when dealing with situations like this. I don't know if it's because of different rules or different mentalities... especially if the airport in question, with a runway 23, is the one I'm thinking of.