April 2011 Issue

The Psychology of Fuel Exhaustion

While mechanical issues can be a cause of running out of gas, the real problem is the way we think about managing fuel.

I need to wrap my head around how people run out of gas in airplanes." I’ve been saying that to myself (and my editor) for over a year, marveling at how almost half of all known engine failures are due to fuel mismanagement. Most of those result from fuel exhaustion: attempting to fly beyond the fueled range of the aircraft, or more simply, running out of gas. Very frequently the pilot almost makes it, landing just short of the planned destination. How could a pilot take off with less fuel than needed to complete a trip? Shouldn’t it be a pilot imperative to have enough fuel not just to meet the preflight planning requirements of FAR 91.151 or 91.167 as appropriate, but also to be certain there would always be enough fuel on board to make it safely to an airport, regardless of the conditions encountered en route?

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