Open/Shut Idea

Feb. 8, 2001

Safety Spotlight - Open/Shut Idea

By Mike Mooney, Valley Oil Company LLC

January/ February 2001

A potential problem: manually operated internal valves

I've recently noticed a disturbing practice by some line service technicians: operating aircraft refueler trucks and leaving manually operated internal valves in the open position at all times.

Trucks of most concern are those with a spring-loaded handle that manually controls the internal valve and in some cases doubles as the emergency shutoff. You must pull this handle out to open the internal valve and allow fuel to flow from the tank. Push this handle in and a spring should automatically close the internal valve and stop the flow of fuel. That is why some of them are labeled "Emergency Shutoff" and painted red.
A little thing ...
While visiting an airport in Florida, the line technician pulled up in the avgas truck, shut off the engine, set the brake, jumped out, and went into the office. Walking around the truck, I noticed the manual internal valve (marked emergency shutoff) pulled out. Refuelers like this were built with a 3-1/2 inch wide vent that opens when the internal is open (see illustration). It rises about one inch, allowing air to flow out of or into the tank.
A big problem ...
This vent has no rain or dust hood to protect it from the elements. In a place like Florida, where 3 inches of rain can fall in minutes, the tank top drains can easily back up and water will pool on the top of the truck's tank, much like a backed up sink. The open vent then acts like a drain, allowing water to flow directly into the tank and contaminating the fuel. This can result in water being pumped into aircraft. Dirt and other debris can also enter the tank through the open vent.
Even if a refueler truck's tank vent is air operated and/or protected with a hood, it's unsafe to leave the internals open all the time. Remember this valve controls the valve at the bottom of the tank. When opened, it floods the plumbing with fuel where it is drawn into the pump, then pushed through the filter, meter, hose, and nozzle. Leave this valve open and you remove/override an important safety feature. For instance, if while driving the truck you run over a wheel chock, curbing, or other high spot and rupture the plumbing, without the valve in the closed position the entire contents of the tank will spill on the ground. Many avgas trucks are also fitted with vapor recovery systems. When the vent is left open and the trucks are full, fuel can splash into the vapor line as the truck is driven.
Thankfully a majority of truck designs include an interlock that sets the brake when the internal valve is opened, so the valve must be closed before the truck can be moved.

Mike Mooney is the vice president of Sales and Technical Services for Valley Oil Company, LLC and is a regular speaker at NATA's Line Service Supervisor Training Seminars.