Aircraft refueling may be a common and routine procedure, but you cannot afford to be complacent or inattentive. When fueling, you must keep sparks from occurring, and mitigate the damage when they do.
The primary danger associated with fueling an aircraft is the possibility of a spark igniting fuel vapors and starting a fire. Precautions can help, but ultimately, vigilance and competence are what prevent this from happening.
Some rules should always be followed while fueling. First, never fuel indoors, such as a hangar. Instead, always fuel outdoors, but remember that this does not remove the danger of fuel vapor igniting. Contrary to popular expectations, fuel vapors do not dissipate in the outdoor air. Instead, they will settle and spread, keeping the ignition risk purely in the area of fueling. Of course, if any fuel spills, stop fueling immediately.
This is painstakingly obvious, but do not allow open flames near fueling operations! Don’t just avoid smoking yourself, keep an eye out for anyone else taking a cigarette break near the aircraft as well. Different operations will have different rules on the required distance but exercise good judgement if you feel someone is too close.
While fueling, keep an eye on the operation itself: make sure that all trucks are grounded properly, keep passengers out of the area, know the location of the nearest fire extinguisher, and end fueling immediately if there is a thunderstorm or severe weather event within 20 nautical miles.
Some operations permit ‘hot refueling,’ which is refueling while the engine is still running. Even if it is allowed, it is not something to be taken lightly. If you have even the slightest reason to doubt the safety of a hot refueling, shut off the engine and refuel normally. Remember that hot refueling should only be done with Jet A or Jet A-1 fuel. AvGas has a low flash point and is more likely to ignite under such an operation. Also, hot refueling should only be done on aircraft where the engine is located above the fuel system. If fuel spills onto a running engine, a fire is all but certain to occur.
Hot refueling is done for the sake of haste, it cannot be rushed. Passengers should be safely disembarked before starting, be sure to close all doors and windows near the fuel point, and do not allow passengers to enter or leave once fueling has begun. Remain at the controls, ready to react if something goes wrong.
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