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HSSE spotlight – Vent spill

Release date:
November 2023
Mauricio Carrelhas, HSSE manager and operations lead, North and Central Europe on the risk of vent spill when refuelling and how it can be prevented through overflow protection and monitoring. 


What is vent spill?

Vent spill, or fuel overspill as it’s also known, is when there is an overflow of fuel during the refuelling process. It can be caused by a number of factors, such as procedural errors, leaks, aircraft tank venting, or simply overfilling the tank. 


In the worst-case scenario, a fuel spill presents a fire hazard and compromises the safety of operators, crew, passengers and other ramp users in the vicinity. There are other consequences too, including delays to an aircraft’s turnaround procedure and departure, the need to evacuate people including passengers from the affected area and the need for fire fighters and specialist services to be called to clean up the spill as well as environmental concerns. All of these have cost implications too for both the airline / aircraft operator and the refuel company. 


How does a vent spill happen?

Aircraft are designed with a vent system located in the aircraft wings, which is designed to release air and fuel vapours as the aircraft is being refuelled. Typically, the fuel control panels are equipped with sensors and instruments to prevent over fuelling, however if the system is clogged, damaged, or not fit for its purpose it can result in a vent spill. Regular maintenance and inspection of these panels and the vents is essential to ensure everything is in good working order. 


While pilots, ground crew and refuelling operators should all be vigilant in preventing over fuelling and avoiding splashback when fuelling, the need to maintain and service the vent system is typically the responsibility of the aircraft operator / owner. 


What happens when a vent spill does occur?

In the event of a vent spill, Air bp refuelling operators will activate an emergency clean-up procedure. This includes the definition of an exclusion zone, ensuring that everyone involved is wearing the correct personal protective equipment (PPE), shutting off the fuel supply, clearing the area and taking the necessary measures to contain and clean up the fuel spill. In most airports, the Fire Brigade are also called to manage the scenario.


How can a vent spill be prevented?

The risk of a vent spill can be minimised through the combination of proper training and awareness. Regular maintenance and servicing of aircraft and fuelling equipment is also key, as is the need to comply with fuelling regulations. Safety is a top priority for Air bp and as such, preventing vent spills is integral to ensuring safe and efficient operations for all our staff and customers. 


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