Raising the Bar on Refueling

As industry standards evolve, FBOs need to assess how well they are keeping up

The aviation industry has raised the bar in regards to safe aircraft fueling operations. As a comparison, the typical automobile safety equipment found in cars made today such as anti-lock braking systems, crumple zones, air bags, rollover protection, and stability control are far advanced from cars made in the ‘50s and ‘60s when seat belts alone were the new industry standard. In those “old days” FBOs took “line boys” from washing planes in exchange for a free airplane ride to fueling planes, all without following a formally written training program. Much like the automotive industry, aircraft fueling operations have become increasingly centered on safety.

Aviation fueling industry safety procedures and equipment that are considered “standard” today represent an evolution of past standards. It’s important to point out that the judicial system considers industry “standards” as having almost the power of law. Many times fixed base operators aren’t aware that they are operating outside the standard.

Therefore, the concern is that if an FBO intentionally or unintentionally operates outside industry standards, defense of their actions would be difficult in court.

The use of the J-Spout, a primary misfueling prevention device, is an example of an industry standard. Yet many line service personnel, including supervisors and managers, have not yet fitted their jet fuel overwing nozzles with these spouts because the J-Spout is not compatible when fueling some helicopters. The lack of proper management and oversight when using the round jet fuel nozzle or “rogue” nozzle can, and has led to, the misfueling of an aircraft.

The industry standard for aircraft misfueling was published in December 2006 by the American Petroleum Institute (API): API/IP Recommended Practice 1597 – Procedures for overwing fuelling to ensure the correct grade to an aircraft. It details all the standard misfueling prevention procedures such as fuel grade confirmation, aircraft wing decals, fuel order forms, selective nozzle spouts, and misfueling prevention training. (Air BP Aviation Services has recently developed a web-based training program which follows this new industry standard for misfueling prevention.)

Heart of the issue: Training
Insufficient training and/or untrained people working unsupervised was a root cause in 90 percent of the incidents we have tracked for the past six years.

There is an industry standard for training line service personnel as well — it is widely considered to be the NATA Safety 1st program or an equivalent line service training program. However, to qualify to be “certified” under the Safety 1st program, a student must complete the entire curriculum. In many cases we find FBOs displaying Safety 1st logos, yet an audit of their training records reveals only a fraction of the program was completed.

The entire NATA Safety 1st program includes a preview, review, hands-on training, and documentation, much more than just watching some videos and taking a test. NATA is now moving the Safety 1st program to a web-based format.

Whatever approved training program is used must provide documentation that the employee is proficient enough to be allowed to service aircraft on their own. In the wake of a serious incident, the first thing an investigator from the FAA, NTSB, police, fire, or insurance company will ask for is the training records for the people involved. FAA likes to ask: “Who trained the individual?” When you answer, the agency will challenge you to provide documentation that they were qualified to conduct the training.

Airline, Military Standards
The bar has also been raised for fixed base operators that fuel airlines and government aircraft. Most airlines and the Defense Energy Supply Center (DESC), which administers military/government fuel contracts, require into-plane contract locations to follow the ATA 103 Standard for Jet Fuel Quality Control at Airports. This standard now requires that into-plane agents have their own site-specific Airport Fuel Facility Operations and Maintenance Manual. This requirement is detailed in the following text taken from the www.air-transport.org website:

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