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6 Things Every Pilot Should Know About Fuel Planning

Fuel planning is one of your most important jobs. Here are some tips you should never forget...

1) Avoid Planning Alternate Fuel By Simply Using Enroute Time/Distance

You need enough fuel to go from your departure airport to your destination, to your alternate and there after for 45 mins at normal cruise. Remember that you should add time for your climb, as well as an approach at your alternate. If you don't, you could find yourself it a very uncomfortable situation...

2) Holding - How Much Time Do You Have?

Whether it's unexpected traffic delays, lowering weather conditions at your destination, or even troubleshooting an abnormal indication, holding can have a major impact on the rest of your flight. As soon as you enter holding, make a plan for how long you can hold and still safely make it to your destination. It's always better to start your diversion early, than to sit in holding a get low on gas.

Before you take off, consider adding some extra fuel dedicated for holding, especially if you'll be flying into a busy airport or with poor weather conditions ahead. The last thing you want is to plan your fuel load so perfectly that you don't have enough to hold, when any delay might cause you to make an immediate diversion.

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3) Call Ahead!

If you're flying into an unfamiliar airport, especially one without an FBO, make sure to call the airport about fuel availability before you take off. You don't want to land at an airport without gas or a broken pump, finding yourself stuck there.

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4) Once You Take Off, You Can Ignore Your Filed Alternate

The legal purpose for filing an IFR alternate airport is based around fuel onboard, to make sure you can make it to another airport and land if you can't break out of the clouds at your destination. Once you're in the air, you can divert anywhere you need to, regardless of what you've filed.

Remember that your diversion planning must include enough fuel to land with reserves onboard.

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5) Pay Attention To Winds Aloft

Winds aloft forecasts have gotten very good. But that doesn't mean they're always perfect. When you get to your cruise altitude, check your actual groundspeed vs. your planned groundspeed. If you're significantly slower than planned, pick an early fuel stop in case the winds continue to stay above forecast conditions.

This is especially relevant for flying across frontal systems, where winds might change dramatically within just a few miles.

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6) Legal Minimums DO NOT Equal Personal Minimums

Just because your fuel load is legal doesn't mean you have to accept the minimum. Always plan for the unexpected and try to carry an extra buffer when you can. There's nothing more useless in the sky than fuel left on the ground!

How low are you willing to go? Click here to find out.

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What other tips do you have for fuel planning? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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