July 28, 2015Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: You may remember news reports a few months ago when Houston businessman Edd Hendee made a successful emergency landing in the grass alongside U.S. 59 near Diboll, after taking off from the Angelina County Airport. He had to land suddenly because both engines of his piston twin engine Cessna 421B had quit. Cause of engine failure: jet fuel instead of AvGas, or 100 Low Lead, was pumped into his tanks. Piston engines don’t run on jet fuel.
While Edd had injury to his vertebrae, from the reports it sounds as though he is going to be fine. This brings up a whole host of topics very important to the City of Liberty, owner of airport property and fuel tanks, and seller of fuel here. Two critical items are sumping the fuel tanks daily to test and rid them of contaminants and water (danger), and prohibiting the sale of AvGas for other than aircraft (hefty federal fines).
Mike: Fuel quality is a serious concern for aviators. Hydrocarbon fuels deteriorate over time, but to get the most life out of them frequent tank and fuel inspections are necessary. Fuel tanks are vented and with expansion and contraction air moves in and out of the tank. During our humid days vapors enter the tank, condensing in the evening and settling into the fuel. Since water is heavier than the fuel, it pools at the bottom of the tank.
Whether in a large airport tank or smaller airplane tank, the physics are the same. Pre-flight inspections include sampling fuel from the aircraft. Low points in airplane fuel tanks, called sumps, collect the water which we remove through drains. If not drained regularly water and sludge build up, get into the engine, and eventually cause it to seize. Likewise, if airport fuel tanks are not drained regularly – recommended daily – the same outcome can be expected, and then the seller of that fuel is flirting with disastrous liability for negligence by selling contaminated fuel, which can cause a life threatening situation.
Microbes live in just about all fuels; they love jet fuel. These bugs are attracted to the water at the bottom of the tank where they reproduce incredibly fast. Unchecked, they can quickly damage the filtration system, plug filters, and eat the walls of the tank – even steel airport storage tanks. Fuel additives for airplanes combat microbial growth but those responsible for fuel sold at an airport must practice proper handling of the fuel at delivery, drain and test storage tanks daily to insure tainted fuel does not enter aircraft fuel tanks. Testing begins after water and contaminants settle, and no aircraft should be fueled until testing is done. This is something a professional airport manager knows, and something Jose Doblado performed daily at the Liberty Municipal Airport.
Linda: There are also federal regulations regarding the sale, purchase, and use of AvGas in vehicles other than aircraft. Both the EPA and taxing authorities care who buys AvGas, and where that fuel goes, putting some responsibility on the seller. The EPA is interested because AvGas contains lead; and if purchased in place of auto gas then the highway department is out that tax money.
Penalties for selling, purchasing, or using AvGas in other than an aircraft engine can be as much as $25,000 for every day of violation, plus the amount of economic benefit or savings resulting from the violation. Failing to furnish information or conduct required tests can bring penalties on the same scale.
We hope that even without Jose looking out for our airport’s best interest, that the city has assigned the daily fuel sumping and testing task to someone, and that AvGas isn’t being sold illegally.