21 - More Information About Refuelling (from our members)

  • Safety Articles

In my 'fuel' e-mail I forgot to say I always refuel either with the hangar doors wide open to dissipate the vapours, or preferably with the aircraft outside on the apron, but of course we have other members who are more expert in these matters. Here are a few very valid and useful comments from among the many I have received so far...

Bob Grimstead
SABC Safety Committee

Your safety announcements are really invaluable and have really got me thinking safety!

I am glad you have brought up this topic as it concerns me. After 20 years in the petrochemical/oil and gas game I can tell you the practice of refuelling from drums in hangars at SABC is DANGEROUS and should be amended to safer practices. There is already enough fuel vapour floating around in a hangar from tank vents to make each hangar a fire hazard.

There are requirements regarding the refuelling of aircraft within certain distance of other aircraft, buildings and other people.

There are fuel storage requirements within hangars and escape requirements.

There are environmental requirements.

I was only down at a Jandakot operator's hanger the other day and saw what a hangar owner had to do to comply with fuel storage requirements. Additional escape route for office and concrete floor had to be raised in office so that fuel could not flood hangar and into office space burning occupants to death.

If you have ever seen a drum fuel BLEVI (ie explode) from over pressure by fire you will understand that spread of fire could be 100m radius from drum takeoff point. Potentially we could see much of Serpentine burnt to the ground in a serious fuel related fire.

I know this may be contentious but I cannot see the logic of not having a fuelling facility at SABC. It is the safest and environmentally best solution. Brick/concrete bund with gravity fed tank on stand fenced with security. Place it in a safe location away from hangars and adopt a "let it burn philosophy" if there is a fire and keep the hell away. Theft of fuel should be inconsequential compared to the potential loss of life and loss of $millions of aircraft/hangars.

Beverley Soaring procured a cheap used chopper refuel facility from Barrow Island and it works well. This is the sort of thing SABC needs. There are second-hand facilities out there that can be procured cheap. A $30 levy (or the cost of one empty drum?) on each member may see this facility built. Maybe BP will do a deal and supply facility if we install?

Having to order dozens of drums of fuel every month I believe is just plain well .....dumb. It is time consuming and takes a lot of organising. Get a tanker to fill an on site tank and use a log sheet for fuel purchases. Yacht clubs Australia wide work like this for refuelling boats with success.

I also dislike slopping fuel around when refuelling with fuel can or trying to pump and hold a nozzle at same time. Every one gets a bit of fuel on themselves from time to time. If you have ever been to a burns ward you will have serious thoughts of what can happen to you if you get a static spark light up your clothes or worse blow up a fuel drum. You need to earth your aircraft to the fuelling system prior to getting a nozzle anywhere near to the aircraft for filling.

As far as static is concerned you have made many valid points. Plastic is bad for this. There have been quite a few car related fires/explosions caused by static build-up on the plastic tray protectors used on Ute tray backs. Plastic builds up and stores a charge well. Mobile phones, or non-intrinsically safe electrical appliances will also ignite fuel vapour....Which is just about every electrical appliance that you can find in any hangar and on a plane!

On the metal Jerry cans, have you ever seen what an old one looks like inside? Take a real good look (don't put a torch in there as it could blow up!), they all rust, have weld splatter and the coating flakes off. It is worth pouring through a funnel filter prior to filling aircraft tank or you will introduce crap into the tank. Similarly with fuel nozzles and hoses. Ever thought where that nozzle has been? It may have been dropped in the sand, filled with dust, cobwebs and could be full of bugs and spiders. Sure it may have an inline fuel filter but what about from the filter to nozzle? Maybe the hose has perished internally and is introducing bits of rubber into your tank. It only takes something the size of a bee to give you a fuel blockage and engine failure.

Unless you know your fuelling system is clean the first few litres I believe should be filled though a filter funnel at the tank to capture any junk that may be in hose nozzle if you are unsure of cleanliness.

On fire mitigation as a minimum I believe each hangar should all have a valid, current suitable fuel rated fire extinguisher as a minimum and adopt a safe fuelling practice. Drums of sand can help but there are better ways to fight fuel fires.

I hope this adds some value to the discussion.

Bob, I believe that its illegal to refuel aircraft it a hangar. Also with the amount of fuel that I have seen stored in hangars, if the hangar owner had a insurance claim, I would say that the Insurance company would use that as a way out of not paying any claim.

I would suggest that all hangar owners have a earth rod of not less than 1.2 metres deep in the ground outside the hangar to clip a earthing cable to and to the earthing point on the aircraft with the refueling taking place outside the hangar.

The depth of the earthing rod is as per the Australian Wiring rules and they state that the earth electrode shall be driven to a depth of not less than 1.2 metres.

If made of steel or iron rod have a minimum diameter of 16mm or if made of non ferrous or non ferrous coated rods a diameter of not less than 12mm.

If made of pipe a minimum internal diameter of 19mm and a minimum wall thickness of 2.45mm. A bolt in the floor of a hangar would not be recognized as a earthing point under the Australian Standards.

Earth electrodes shall as far as practicable be embedded below the permanent moisture level so that variations in soil conditions are unlikely to affect the effective contact of the electrode with the general mass of earth.

I hope this is of some help.

You've got too much money Bob.

Static electricity can't be used for welding, so it doesnt need welding sized leads to dissipate it. My lead has never failed me and can still be made for under $2 I think.

Find a packet of little alligator clips in the cheapest discount store you dare to enter. The cheapest aren't that much worse than the expensive ones unfortunately. Then locate some automotive 110 volt insulated wire, about an arm span of it is probably all you need. Solder an alligator clip to each end of the wire. Check it on a volt meter for continuity and then put it into use. Electrical connection is what is required, nothing elaborate. If you were caught out in the bush without a static strap an old piece of fencing wire would suffice.

On the jerry cans, they are painted inside and out so a little piece of metal bent into a tee shape and pop rivetted on to the flat of the handle beside the spout will give excellent earthing and somewhere to attach the clip. You'll find all of mine have one.

Fuel tanks without finger traps. What stupidity. They are only soldered together and can be made in an hour.

Most people have no experience with actual static discharge because of the atmospheric humidity, but just once fly into cold dry air with little moisture or really hot dry air and it will bite for certain. Never drop your guard. It sits patiently out there like gravity ...just waiting :-)

By the way, I use a plastic funnel with a fine gauze and everything else static strapped together. This has worked so far.