Refuelling is a vital part of any flight. Customers expect it to work seamlessly, timelessly and efficiently, but most of all safely. Only this month we have we been reminded of the catastrophic consequences of misfuelling a plane. Misfuelling essentially means delivering the incorrect grade of fuel to an aircraft. This ultimately results in a fatality as the aircraft crashes.
A Piper Aerostar crashed soon after take-off from Indiana’s Kokomo Municipal Airport killing its pilot after pumping 163 gallons of Jet-A into the piston-engine aircraft, which should have been filled with aviation gas (avgas). The NTSB report states that the FBO worker radioed the pilot asking him if he wanted jet fuel before landing, then again before refuelling. On both occasions the pilot confirmed he wanted jet fuel. The refuelling vehicle was clearly marked Jet-A. Interestingly the worker had to rotate the Jet-A fuel nozzle, (which has a larger diameter relative to an Avgas fuelling port) to be able to refuel the aircraft. An Avgas port is smaller than Jet-A one. Better training would have meant that he would have realised the poor fit meant the wrong fuel was being supplied.
In another incident, a pilot was killed in 2015 when his plane plunged to the ground after his aircraft was filled with 52 gallons of jet fuel instead of aviation gas (Avgas).
Pilots and airlines alike are under pressure to make take-off slots. Many have limited time to turn the aircraft around and prepare it for take-off. Passengers have to be disembarked and then boarded, baggage has to be unloaded and then loaded, the cabin has to be cleaned and catering facilities refreshed. Alongside all these activities the aircraft must be refuelled in the safest and most reliable way to depart on time.
Keeping people safe and mitigating any potential risks is a priority, whatever the time pressure. While misfuelling remains the biggest safety risk, other risks include people working under an aircraft and being injured by moving vehicles. Equipment being damaged resulting in catastrophic spills is another hazard. This is especially true of larger, busier commercial airports. It is not unheard of for baggage trucks to hit a refuelling hose or hydrant pit valve. If this was to happen, then an emergency shut down is triggered to stop the free flow of fuel to reduce the risk of fire.
With so many aircraft looking almost identical and new aircraft coming to the market all the time, a simple visual check or asking the pilot is not enough as proved in recent tragic crashes. A good quality decal should be on every aircraft. This is a sticker that is located next to the fuelling orifice on an aircraft which conveys the correct fuel grade. It should always be clearly visible. Unlike cars, aircraft can’t pull over to rectify an issue, there are no laybys in the sky.
This is why Air BP launched Airfield Automation the world’s first misfuel prevention technology which automatically captures data and transmits it in real time. Air BP’s global rollout of Airfield Automation started just over two years ago. There are now 15,000 fuelling’s a month using this digital platform, which enhances safety, reliability and compliance in airport fuelling operations. The development of this unique technology has been an extensive collaboration with airport operators and airlines and has safety at the heart of it. Not only does it aim to prevent the ‘one in a million’ risk of misfuelling. It is also a genuinely efficient piece of technology which is paperless from the beginning to end and has an impressive 99% data invoice accuracy.
This pioneering technology includes the Safe2Go app, a cloud-based platform accessed via a hand-held device that consolidates all the data associated with Air BP’s refuelling operations. It is also integrated so it captures all the fuel volume readings from the meter on the vehicle and performs a number of checks in an enhanced three-way cross check that need to be satisfied electronically before the refuelling starts. Importantly the Airfield Automation hand-held device is used to scan the decal on the aircraft using recognition technology. If it doesn’t recognize the grade as being the same in the refuelling truck it won’t allow the truck to pump fuel. It also electronically captures all customer details which are confirmed with an electronic signature from the pilot or airline. This saves a significant amount of time, not just at the point of fuelling, but also when it comes to invoicing. Ultimately this means pilots can get away quicker.
As a company Air BP has a very strong safety culture. We want our people, our customers and their customers to be safe. Not many people realise that our refuelling team usually have prior experience when they are recruited and then go through an extensive training period that can last more than a year. We have a large loyal team who have been with us for many years and go through regular training. This robust approach is also evident in the equipment we use. Carefully designed, reliable, up-to-date and well-maintained equipment is essential for an efficient operation. It’s only by maintaining these high standards we keep our customers taking off on time.
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