So holidaymakers ask; What is the minimum fuel level for an aircraft?

An article in today's Independent, highlights the report from the Spanish Aviation Authorities, where they express concern over 'market competition' and the apparent practice for airlines to carry a lower level of fuel for their journey.  The report follows on from a Ryanair flight which had to declare an emergency because it was low on fuel. The report cites the fact that the aircraft was found to be 183 Kilos short on the 'legal' requirement!

When making their decision for fuel, pilots must have in mind, engine failure, meteorological conditions, air traffic control decisions and so on.  In this case it would appear that the relevant decisions were made before departure, however, windy conditions at the destination airport caused the aircraft to experience two aborted landings and a decision to divert to another airport; it was this latter decision that caused the air-crew to call a 'Mayday'.

I was curious to establish the 'legal' minimum for fuel, particularly as the Independent article referred to an internal airline memorandum which is apparently disputed by the airline.  It seems that the dispute between the report and the airline rests upon its apparent policy that allows for captains to take on half the reserve fuel "as long as they provide a reason for doing so" whereas the report apparently critically states that the incident arose due to "inadequate decision-making process".  This war of words will no doubt continue to run!

I have for sometime be asking the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to create a better navigation on their website so that information can be easily accessed. I am told that they will consider and discuss the issues with me - in due course no doubt!

It is not easy to establish information via their website, but here is what I have found.

I was interested to read EC Regulation 216/2008, which provides for a very wide-sweeping Regulation on aviation safety, creates EASA and provides them with very extensive operational powers and competancy (Note: some of this Regulation has been amended by EC Regulation 1108/2009).

On the issue of fuel we can see that in Annex III in 216/2008, one of the practical skills that a pilot must have is 'fuel planning'.

In Annex IV it states:

"The amount of fuel and oil on board must be sufficient to ensure that the intended flight can be completed safely,taking into account the meteorological conditions, any element affecting the performance of the aircraft and anydelays that are expected in flight. In addition, a fuel reserve must be carried to provide for contingencies.Procedures for in-flight fuel management must be established when relevant".

In the same Annex it also states:

"the applicable in-flight fuel management procedures must be used, when relevant".

In its commentary entitled NCC.OP.130, EASA states that:

(a) The pilot-in-command shall only commence a flight if the aeroplane carries sufficient fuel and oil for the following:

(1) for visual flight rules (VFR) flights:

(i) by day, to fly to the aerodrome of intended landing and thereafter to fly
for at least 30 minutes at normal cruising altitude; or

(ii) by night, to fly to the aerodrome of intended landing and thereafter to fly
for at least 45 minutes at normal cruising altitude;

(2) for IFR flights:

(i) when no destination alternate is required, to fly to the aerodrome of
intended landing, and thereafter to fly for at least 45 minutes at normal
cruising altitude; or

(ii) when a destination alternate is required, to fly to the aerodrome of
intended landing, to an alternate aerodrome and thereafter to fly for at
least 45 minutes at normal cruising altitude.

(b) In computing the fuel required including to provide for contingency, the following shall
be taken into consideration:

(1) forecast meteorological conditions;

(2) anticipated ATC routings and traffic delays;

(3) procedures for loss of pressurisation or failure of one engine while en-route,

where applicable; and

(4) any other condition that may delay the landing of the aeroplane or increase fuel and/or oil consumption.

(c) Nothing shall preclude amendment of a flight plan in-flight, in order to re-plan the flight to another destination, provided that all requirements can be complied with from the point where the flight is re-planned.

In the EASA document, Opinion 01/2012, 1 February 2012, they state under NCC.OP.205 In-flight Fuel Management that:

"Following a number of comments, and for consistency, the term final reserve fuel, which is not defined in NCC rule text, has been removed. The rule text now refers to the minimum fuel requirement for aeroplane and helicopters. The intent of the rule is to ensure that after landing the remaining fuel is not less than the fuel reserve required in NCC.OP.130 and NCC.OP.131 [the latter number relates to helicopters]".

There are further similar comments within the same document, found under NCC.OP.190 In-flight Fuel Management.

But still I cannot find a minimum, volume stated, kilo requirement for a fuel reserve on aircraft; has the Regulation and subsequent rule-making been defined in such a way that suggests 'light-touch' Regulation?

Perhaps this is why a spokesperson for Ryanair apparently stated:

"The EU’s fuel requirements work fine for all EU airlines...If pilots want fuel over and above our prescribed extra fuel, they take it".

That suggests to me that the airline, and let's be fair, other airlines, can consider and assess the rules that are laid out; if that were not the case, then surely this incident would never have arisen?

Is it not time EASA to import certainty into the rules on fuel reserves and a little more enforcement for the benefit of 'Consumer confidence', which I note is only mentioned once in the entirety of EC Regulation 216/2008?

Tags: EASA European Aviation Safety Agency Ryanair The Independent Aircraft Fuel Reserves Flight Safety EC Regulation 216/2008

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