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Think You Have Enough Fuel? This Crew Did Too...

During a night training flight, this crew faced every instrument pilot's worst nightmare. Low weather, failed runway lights, and minimum fuel that left them with just one last chance to successfully land from an instrument approach.

Live from the Flight Deck

The Extra Fuel Almost Wasn't Enough

This NASA ASRS report was filed in May of 2017 by a PA-34-220T Turbo Seneca III crew on a training flight...

We had 14 extra gallons of fuel beyond the required 56 gallons for our 30 minute flight, 45 minutes in cruise to our filed alternate, and 45 minutes of IFR reserve. We departed with 70 gallons of fuel in a Seneca and planned for a 28 GPH fuel burn. Conditions at our destination, ZZZ, were about 300 feet and 10 miles visibility. We filed ZZZ1 as an alternate, where visibility was about 5 miles and the ceiling was 600 to 800 feet.

Curimedia / Flickr

Upon arrival, we shot three approaches to ZZZ, but the crosswinds were so strong that we had to go missed each time.

Next, we diverted to our alternate (ZZZ1), where the winds were much more favorable. We attempted to shoot the ILS, but upon reaching minimums we did not see the field and had to go missed. We then flew to a backup alternate, ZZZ2, where we attempted two more approaches. On each approach, the airport lights would not turn on. Since it was night, we had no choice but to go missed since we could not see the runway environment.


Finally, we flew to nearby ZZZ3. After failing to locate the airport on the first ILS approach, we declared minimum fuel with air traffic control. We made a plan that if the 2nd attempt failed, we would ditch the plane in the water. Fortunately, on the second ILS approach we saw the airport right at minimums and landed.

Can't Make It To The Ground? Divert Early.

In total, this crew flew 8 approaches. They continually attempted to land during poor conditions at every airport. This scenario might sound unrealistic, but it's a very real and very dangerous situation to be stuck in. And it's not like they started the flight with only reserve fuel. They had a reported 14 gallons above the minimum fuel requirement for their flight!

So, what's the best thing this crew could have done to avoid such a dangerous situation? Divert earlier. They shot three approaches into the first airport with winds that weren't changing and were too challenging to fly in.

They also chose to shoot a second approach into their third airport, even after the lights didn't come on the first time. Diverting earlier would've given them more fuel, more time, and more options.


Of course, this is an extremely complex example. Making the choice when to divert and where to go isn't easy. If you're ever faced with a situation like this, divert as early as possible to an airport that has the best possible conditions.

Keep in mind, too, that you don't need to divert to your filed alternate. Weather, especially low IFR weather, can change rapidly. A good diversion airport when you filed your flight plan might no longer be your best option when you're an hour into your flight. And even if your diversion airport isn't close to your destination, at least you'll be on the ground.

What do you think? What should this crew have done differently? 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, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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