How Much Fuel are Aircraft Required to Carry?
How do you know you’ve got enough?
How Much Fuel do Planes Carry for a Flight?
The minimum amount of fuel which a passenger jet must carry is set out by regulators such as EASA and the FAA. Airlines are actually required to carry substantially more fuel for a flight than is required to get from A to B in case anything unexpected happens such as an airport closure or aircraft emergency. Commercial flights typically carry at least one hour’s worth of additional fuel on top of that required to get to their destination, but this is often increased by the pilots depending on the circumstances on the day.
Airlines must comply with the regulatory stipulations regarding carrying fuel. Most authorities policies are broadly similar and are detailed in each airline’s operating manuals.
Under EASA regulations (although FAA and other authorities are very similar) the Captain must ensure he has the following minimum fuel before departure:
- Trip Fuel
- Diversion fuel or 15 mins holding fuel if flight is planned with no alternate
- Reserve Fuel
- Contingency Fuel
- Taxi Fuel
- Additional Fuel
Fuel required from the start of take-off, through climb, cruise, descent and approach to touchdown at destination, assuming departure on the SID from the assumed runway and arrival using the STAR for the assumed arrival runway and routing based on the forecast wind.
Fuel required from go-around at destination, climb, cruise, descent, approach and landing at the selected alternate airport. This is normally calculated at the planned landing weight minus contingency fuel.
If no alternate is planned for the flight then the diversion fuel figure must be replaced by 15 mins holding fuel at 1500ft above destination airfield in standard conditions.
Aircraft Reserve Fuel
Is the minimum fuel required to be present in tanks at the alternate airfield (or destination if no planned alternate). The figure is calculated based on 30 mins of fuel holding at 1500ft in clean configuration at planned landing weight.
This is carried to cover unforeseen variations from the planned operation. For example different winds / temps from forecast or ATC restrictions on levels and speed. It can be used anytime after dispatch (once aircraft moves under its own power). It cannot be planned to use before. More likely it is used for delays on departure or arrival.
Contingency Fuel should be the higher of (i) or (ii) below:
a. Not less than 5% of the TRIP FUEL required from departure to destination; or
b. If an En-route alternate is available and selected, not less than 3% of the TRIP FUEL required from departure to destination; or
c. An amount of fuel sufficient for 20 minutes flying time based upon the planned trip fuel consumption; or
d. Statistical Contingency Fuel (SCF).
ii. An amount to fly for 5 minutes at holding speed at 1500 ft clean at Planned Landing Weight.
The minimum contingency fuel to be carried must not be below 5 minutes at holding speed at 1500 ft clean at Planned Landing Weight, even for the purpose of an LMC fuel reduction
This is fuel for APU burn on the ground, engine start and taxi out. Most airlines use statistical data to calculate this by using the taxi time in minutes.
Additional fuel is planned and loaded if the existing total fuel is not sufficient to cater for an engine failure (2 engines in 4 engine aircraft) or de-pressurisation at the most critical point along the route. Fuel planning must allow a descent and trip Fuel to alternate airfield, hold for 15 mins at 1500ft and make an approach and land.
Most airlines will work the total fuel required, which is presented to the pilots, through their flight planning system. The pilots will then make a decision as to whether they require any ‘extra’ fuel. There could be many reasons for requested additional fuel such as weather, ATC delays, an increase in passenger numbers or a technical defect.
Who Decides how Much Fuel Should be Carried for the Flight?
The final decision as to how much fuel should be carried for a flight is always the responsibility of the Captain of the aircraft. The Captain will discuss the requirements to take any extra fuel with the First Officer prior to the flight commencing.