Better fuel management by aviators could prevent an average of 50 general aviation accidents a year, according to the NTSB’s latest safety alert, ‘Flying on Empty,’ issued yesterday.

Unthinkable, yet...

The idea of running out of fuel in a car is an inconvenience.  The idea of running out of fuel in an aircraft is unthinkable, and yet, it causes more accidents than anyone might imagine.

Fuel management is the sixth leading cause of general aviation accidents in the US. Of the roughly 1,300 general aviation accidents investigated by the NTSB annually between 2011 and 2015, more than 50 in each year were attributed to fuel management issues. Of those, 56 percent were the result of fuel exhaustion (running out of gas) while fuel starvation (where gas is present but doesn’t reach the engine) accounted for 35 percent of the fuel-related accidents. Pilot error contributed to 95 percent of the fuel management related accidents, equipment issues contributed to just five percent.

Students, veteran pilots differ

In data that seems counterintuitive, the NTSB notes student pilots were involved in just two percent of fuel related accidents, while general aviation pilots holding either a commercial or air transport pilot certificate were involved in 48 percent of those accidents. Pilots holding private or sport pilot certificates were involved in the remaining 50 percent of fuel related accidents.

Stop and get gas

Safety Alert 067, available online at, highlights several investigations relating to fuel exhaustion and starvation and offers several preventive measures including: 

  • Do not rely exclusively on fuel gauges -- visually confirm the quantity of fuel in the tanks before takeoff.
  • Know the aircraft's fuel system and how it works.
  • Have a fuel reserve for each flight.
  • Stop and get gas -- don't stretch the fuel supply.

To read and download the ‘Flying on Empty’ safety alert visit