View Full Version : Fuel Emergencies

Roger Dodge
19th Jun 2003, 05:13
I don't know whether this is the right place to post this (I'm sure it will get moved to the correct place if not).

This is not intended as a witch hunt (far from it). I am merely looking for an aircrew perspective to something that happened whilst I was controlling the LAM hold today.....

Delays into Heathrow were 10-15 mins and the stack contained a/c at FL80 up to FL160. I was informed by an adjacent sector that a/c X only had 9 minutes of 'holding fuel'. When the a/c was told of the delay, the response was that "We should be OK". The a/c was handed to me at FL170 but I had an inkling that this was not the end of the story.

The next 5 minutes were uneventful, however, on entering the hold at FL150, a/c X informed me that the next time over LAM, he wished to divert to SS. Seeing no point in him continuing around the hold, I put him on a heading for a downwind join at SS. This he completed with no further incident.


1) Why not declare an emergency and get a priority approach into LL? (even from LAM when he requested to divert the track distance would have been half of that required to land at SS)
2) Surely the impact of having the passengers and aeroplane at the wrong airport is greater than declaring an emergency?

As I said at the start, no witch hunt intended, just curious as to why this decision was taken when it was apparent to me that a more expeditious approach (and therefore less fuel burn) was available.

Edited to eliminate semantics in a vain attempt to stick to the point:E

19th Jun 2003, 05:22
Those who fly 'round with absolute minimum fuel need to have their respective licenses/AOC cancelled, forthwith.

There is absolutely no excuse for this type of operation.


Will the UK CAA enforce same...not in our lifetimes, unfortunately.

Laughing stock of the EC.

19th Jun 2003, 05:45
Not this again... there is no such thing as a FUEL emergency. The UK CAA, some time ago, published a new definition of "no delay" in the UK meaning "expect to hold up to 20 minutes" - I guess this must be somewhat confusing for English as a second language users... Why not just come out and say aircraft must carry a minimum of 20min hold fuel over and above normal reserves?

19th Jun 2003, 05:54
Roger - there is NO such thing as a 'fuel emergency' in the UK. I would have thought you would know that?

There is an emergency caused by lack of fuel - Pan or Mayday, depending on how short you are, but arriving at xxx with insufficient to hold is down to the Captain of the a/c to handle.

This a/c was probably not in an 'emergency' fuel state at the time it went away, so declaring an 'emergency' would not be a good idea! It may be that this a/c loaded 'sufficient' fuel at departure and used it en-route for whatever reason, and it is by no means uncommon to arrive with less than a 'comfort' figure in tanks and 'hang on' and see how the stack thins out before making a diversion decision. JAROPS allows you to have NO diversion fuel at all in reasonable weather at LHR.

Allowing those who load insufficient fuel to 'jump the queue' by asking for an expeditious approach would open a huge can of worms.

19th Jun 2003, 06:07
I must say that I am almost in total agreement with 411A in this case.

I realise that circumstances do vary but anyone who plans to arrive at places like LHR on Min fuel has got to be on a different planet!

I wonder how long it will be before there will be some sort of major incident/accident caused by this type of fuel "planning".

Just over ten years ago I was operating flights from Papua New Guinea to Australian destinations such as Sydney. The NOTAMs for Sydney at the time stated that an extra ONE hours holding fuel had to be carried to SYD as a destination - no ifs or buts. Why cannot the UK authorities do likewise?

There is a thread running on ATC which is of further interest on this topic - here is the link:-

Fuel (http://www.pprune.org/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=50602)

Notso Fantastic
19th Jun 2003, 06:23
Roger- are you really an ATCO? All we have at our disposal these days is Mayday or Pan, and pilots are very loath to pull those out of the hat for a routine low fuel situation- they are emergency calls and will be investigated afterwards by the CAA, and professional pilots are there to not have emergencies. So how can an ATCO not know that?

Sick Squid
19th Jun 2003, 06:31
411A, you do have a serious problem with opening your mouth without really knowing what you are talking about, and attempting an authoritative air. The World is not a simple place, and a lot of your ideas have not moved on.. with due respect to your experience.

If I carry my company's flight-plan fuel into Heathrow, I will arrive at the hold with at least one major alternate available for the first 20 minutes, and at least 2 for the first 5 on over 95% of occasions. Bear in mind that I am talking nominated alternates here, and I can always re-plan based on actual burn to nearer airfields... Bournemouth, Southampton, Stansted, Manston to name a few options available in the LHR area. If I have that amount of fuel in my tanks, then the weather will have indicated that I will have the commit-criteria weather available to me on arrival in the zone, a luxury we can use with multiple runway destinations. If the weather indicates less than that, or my experience dictates that there is the potential for greater delays due to external circumstances, then I will have more.

Bear in mind that the scenario I give above arrives with flight-plan fuel.. you can use the term "minimum" for that if you like, because it is the baseline figure presented to me on check-in. I will carry extra based on my experience, but not just because I have the ability to do so.

Fuel emergencies do not exist in the UK as stated above. If necessary, you will raise the status to a Pan, but as a professional courtesy if it even LOOKS like getting close to that state then I will have had a proactive word with the controllers first. On such a day however, there will be a lot of excrement flying around the area for them to deal with as well as us.

Despite your beliefs stated on here ad nauseum there IS still fat in the system and this generation of pilots are equally as capable of dealing with emerging problems on the fly as yours were. A degree of professional courtesy would not go amiss from time to time, rather than shooting-off an opinion without the requisite knowledge of current procedure to back it up.


Point Seven
19th Jun 2003, 06:32

i AM an ATCO and I have never been told that pilots will not declare an emergency (or more probably a PAN) for low fuel. I know that fuel emergencies have been done away with over here but if you're spinning around OCK and you declare a PAN for low fuel, the girls and boys at LACC will get you in quick. Surely if you're carrying appropriate fuel lodings who cares if you're investigated, there'll be nothing to hide eh??


Roger Dodge
19th Jun 2003, 06:50

Yes indeed I am an ATCO thank you for asking!! I apologise for using the 2 words 'fuel' and 'emergency' together. Of course I know there is no such thing as a 'fuel emergency'. there is however, as you rightly point out, the ability to call a PAN.

Your 'professional pilots are there to not have emergencies' statement is fairly obvious. However, things go wrong!! We are there to offer assistance when they do! I was merely questioning the logic of flying 50 miles to land, when the same result could be achieved in 20 miles by declaring a PAN. If it was not that serious why divert?

Point 7: Just a small point old chap, but LACC would not be controlling anybody in the OCK hold, that would be us in LTCC:p

19th Jun 2003, 07:03
Point Seven,

The whole reason why Mayday and PAN get such a service is because in the case of MAYDAY, life is in imminent danger and in the case of PAN, there is a case of urgency.

You as an ATCO will provide the best service to a flight which declared MAYDAY or PAN to and delay all others in order to ensure safety.

If everyone did as you suggested then you would end up with so many PAN calls per day that the whole idea would be a waste of time.

Provided that the aircraft in question landed at Stansted with 30 minutes fuel in the tanks i.e. final fuel reserve then is never a question regarding the safety of the flight.

Perhaps this Captain was considering what nobody has considered;

Arrive at LAM with Stansted as Alternate......hear from ops that not only are they holding at LAM to medium levels but there is also some holding at Stansted (the usual 20 minutes or less).
So Captain thinks.......when I divert, in book terms, I will probably have to hold at Lorel or Abbot for up to 20 minutes before making an approach and then I must land with 30 minutes fuel......thus rough figures......LAM to Lorel 5 minutes, hold 20 minutes, approach, 10 minutes plus the 30 minutes so min fuel to leave LAM is some 1hr 5 minutes fuel.

So perhaps this Captain was operating very safely. We don't know and that is the important point.



19th Jun 2003, 07:11
This is all getting a tad confused, especially with Roger editing his first post!

.7: i AM an ATCO and I have never been told that pilots will not declare an emergency (or more probably a PAN) for low fuel

You do not need to be told that - it is not so. UK pilots WILL declare an emergency for low fuel. It is just that it will be a PAN or MAYDAY, not a 'Fuel emergency'. I think that is something from 411a's area?

Roger: - I was merely questioning the logic of flying 50 miles to land, when the same result could be achieved in 20 miles by declaring a PAN. If it was not that serious why divert?

That is the ESTABLISHED procedure, (world-wide, I guess), and it encourages crews to take the right amount of fuel because, YES, diverting is worse than landing at destination - for everyone, but allowing someone who did not take the right fuel to shout 'help' and jump ahead of all those who did would create havoc.

I think you are misleading yourself by ?assuming? the diverting a/c was diverting IN AN EMERGENCY STATE? It probably was not. The diversion is normally 'routine' as far as R/T calls are concerned.

Roger Dodge
19th Jun 2003, 07:17

Thank you for both of your well informed answers. They have answered my original question.


Apologies for editing the original post, but when some people pick up on semantics to try and point score, it gets my goat:mad:

19th Jun 2003, 09:23
Seems this is always an emotive topic and as others have said "waters can be muddied" by outdated,or irrelevant, subjective etc. etc. postings.
Bearing in mind that Pprune has a vast readership of those "not in the know" of rules and regulations may I firstly state that it is my firm belief that ALL Commercial flights are dispatched with the requisite amount of fuel required to comply with the Operator's CAA/FAA directives. So for all you civvies flying off on hols, ignore some of the previous alarmist nonsense. Your a/c will have enuf juice to start engines, taxy out, fly to destn plus a percentage of fuel for contingency, then to fly to an Alternate airfield and having arrived there, fuel for another 30 minutes going round in circles at 1500ft before making a final approach, overshoot and visual circuit to land before all goes quiet engine-wise. YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING THE LOTTERY ARE FAR MORE FAVOURABLE THAN FINDING YOURSELF HOLDING AT 1500FT OVER YOUR ALTERNATE!!

Rodger Dodge et al: JAROPS require that.. In Flight, there must be sufficient fuel at all times to continue to Destination plus Alternate Fuel and Final Reserve (30mins hold 1500ft).
In our Company we call Altn & Final reserve CMR (i.e.Company Minimum Reserve)
But there are two exceptions to this and the one relevant in your scenario is as follows: (and I paraphrase it)
If having arrived at the holding fix for the approach, the fuel on arrival will be LESS than CMR, then providing a landing can be reasonably assured the aircraft may hold, or continue to hold , so long as final reserve is expected to remain on landing.

Your man has told you the guy had 9 mins "extra" to play with. It's taken him 5 mins of that to drop 2000ft and he's still at FL150. Lot can happen with other traffic in that time. Wherever he/she goes 30 mins fuel on landing is the target. In circumstance you describe, don't reckon many people could put hand on heart and say a landing could be "REASONABLY" assured so as to arrive with min of 30mins.

The rules are very sensible and so was this crew in my estimation. Another time, maybe a lower level in the stack, less traffic etc. he/she would have stuck around so long as a landing could be REASONABLY assured (with Final reserve remaining). Bet you a penny to a pound of sh1t that in this case he/she said "Nah" too iffy! Good Call mon Brave. Same bet that there was never any suggestion of a Fuel "problem" either. Seems pretty smart "Fuel Management" in my book.

Sorry to be so long-winded but get a tad miffed when what appears to be good airmanship comes under the cosh.
If you want further info RD send PM and I'll give you a call.:zzz:

19th Jun 2003, 09:32
Sick Squid,

The problem seems not with UK airlines...but foreign aircarriers.
First started flying into LHR in the mid-seventies, and along the line somewhere (a long time ago) the extra 20 minutes fuel notam was distributed.

Not all that long ago, when long range ops from SE Asia started, several aircraft landed with nothing short of fumes remaining, having flown over many enroute alternates prior to arrival.

I ask you, is this sound policy? And if it is not...about time the UK CAA came down hard on operators that have recurring fuel problems.

Captain Stable
19th Jun 2003, 17:37
I am glad that people have calmed down a bit on this thread.

I would be grateful if people could please remember that this forum is here to answer queries of a technical nature. It is not intended for people in one profession to score points off another, nor for anyone to say that today's pilots know nothing - in my day... etc. etc., nor for anyone to shoot from the hip without knowing any of the facts in a given situation.

Roger did not specify which airline was responsible, so there is no excuse for anyone to crow about foreign airlines being worse than UK airlines, or foreign pilots. There is no evidence that the crew planned to arrive in the hold with as little fuel as they appear to have had.

There is no cause to castigate Roger for wondering about the crew not declaring an emergency. There is such as a thing as a fuel emergency. You merely call it as a Mayday. You do not call "fuel emergency".

I hope to see better behaviour here in future, with fewer attempts at scoring points and more assistance to people asking perfectly sensible questions. Some posters run very close to the line. This is not a wise course of action.

PPRuNe Towers
19th Jun 2003, 18:39
One of my sideways looks I'm afraid team........

I'm working on the assumption of the skipper's skill, and thinking being well up to speed. Good airmanship and even possibly making a point to the deskbound.

There's a preponderance of replies from those in a company with a long history of learning and good operational integrity. A cut, dried, sensible, calmly expressed approach to reassure.

However the reality is such that a huge proportion of companies operate on bought in flight plans from 3rd parties. Both the companies and the suppliers will offer their firstborn along with the assurances that the plans are legal, decent and honest.

In many cases they are not and not in terms of one off errors either. The problem is systemic and down to laziness, incompetance or simply ambitious people making their reputations for career reasons.

Specifically: Alternate fuel burns/plans are absolutely straight tracks to the nearest runway at the diversion and based on a 'ballistic' vertical flight path to 1500 feet from that runway.

Yep, looks convincing, follows the letter of the law and doing anything else comes under the heading of far too difficult. Anyway, that's how the supplier does it for X,Y and Z airlines - so there!

I've personally had plans that assumed reaching FL260 during a diversion from Stansted to East Midlands on a straight line track.

It's also interesting, while safely on the ground, to run a flight with a diversion on a chart or paper. Using your regulations, ops manual and QRH note the points at which - in a totally legal fuel plan - you will be declaring a pan (if understood), a mayday and then, depending on type, low fuel drills yet still arrive on the ground with supposedly legal minimum fuel.

Is it in the spirit of the legislation to have been forced to declare a pan, mayday and possibly carry out QRH actions on a totally legal flight?

Final point - in my experience my eyesight appears to be failing when I look for the required 20 mins for operating in the London area when looking at 3rd party generated plans. It's official, it's promulgated and it shouldn't be a matter of airmanship to remember it.

OPs inspectors reading please take note!


19th Jun 2003, 19:25
Doesn't JAR-OPS specify two rwy's, wx requirements and no ATC delays, before dumping your alternate?

19th Jun 2003, 19:56
Taking the above post one step further;

With regard to the JAR-OPS requirements for operating with no alternate, I often wonder about the adviseability of ever doing it at Heathrow or similar airports because;

a) Why would the arrival runway suddenly become unavailable in good weather........answer most likely a landing incident/accident.

b) With the fire services attending an incident/accident, what category is available to cover operations on the other runway......and if this is 0, how long will it take for the crews to regain the required category?

c) Even with the normal 5 or 6 min delay in dual runway ops, what would the delay escalate to if the airport went to single runway ops......even allowing for departures being stopped, Captain A has ditched the alternate under JAR-OPS, chances are that Captains B,C,D,E.....Z have done likewise and thus everyone is in a hurry to get onto the ground.

Thus personally I would prefer to retain the alternate regardless of the situation at Heathrow.

As for fuel "plans", I have found that not only do they operate as per PPrune Towers described, they usually don't allow for unfavourbale enroute levels. Typical of this is using the T9 with a bad level into Gatwick when the planned alternate is Luton with as was said, a direct line track. Not good!!!!

Thus one can find that departing with the offical dispatch fuel figure which will include the 20 minutes for London, a poor level enroute and taking a more reasonable approach to diversion can get rid of the 20 minutes before arrival in the TMA.



19th Jun 2003, 21:06
When Virgin landed partial gear up on 27L some years ago, LHR, much to everyone’s surprise, closed. Reason? Nil fire and rescue for the remaining RWY. It took; correct me if I'm wrong, about 30 minutes before single rwy ops started.

20th Jun 2003, 08:33
When operating into FRA some years ago, received a sita from the company commercial manager demanding that absolute minimum fuel be uplifted to ensure all extra belly cargo could be accomodated.
Left the cargo behind and uplifted fuel for what I considered to be required, considering anticipated delays upon arrival.

Delays at SPA...45 minutes.

Upon arrival in FRA, received another sita from the commercial manager asking me to explain myself. Sent my reply (and a copy of the first msg to my fleet manager.

Upon return to base, found a short memo from the fleet manager in my mailbox to disregard further messages from the commercial director. A short handwritten memo at the bottom of the page stated...."the concerned individual will
not stick his oar in my (or your) pond again, ever. Safety first."
Always appreciated his candor.

Wonder if it would be the same today?

Captain Stable,
My 'shoot from the hip" comments were made on this thread before it was transferred here.:E