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Drummed Jet Fuel - How Old Is Too Old?

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Also, we all know that if you filled your aircraft with

Stove oil, it would probably get you home (most of the time). The question is: Is old fuel approved (as per your Flight Manual)? It is the responsibility of the PIC (and his supplier) to ensure the fuel being used meets the ASTM/MIL/NATO specification (before you disagree check your flight manual).

 

When your supplier drums it, he takes a sample and tests it in a lab to ensure it meets these standards. He then labels it stating it meets one of these specifications. They know that over time the fuel will degrade (even in ideal conditions with no contamination). Most suppliers have a published shelf life (or retest period) the maximum being 2 years (in many cases 1 year or less). Lately we have seen these retest dates also labeled on the drum . Even if the retest date us not on gage drum , it's usually on the accompanying paperwork. If you ask them, they will also tell you this.

 

What the supplier is doing is certifying that fuel as meeting the required spec for a limited time period. After the retest date, they have withdrawn this certification until it is retested. (And your ASTM approval label is no longer valid). So in short, there is no way for the pilot can be certain he is using approved fuel. We have sent samples to labs to be retested on many occasions and they always fail to meet required spec. These drums were generally about 2 years since being filled.

 

The suppliers realize that rarely will 2 year old drummed fuel meet the approved fuel specs (in a climate controlled warehouse); even if the fuel looks clear and bright, the fact is it does not have the required properties to be approved. No pilot can determine whether fuel meets these standards with a visual check, and no amount of equipment, filters and training can fix this problem.

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Now, forget about that one time you got to a fuel cash and took a chance to get home.

 

What if I send you on a job and you show up and the client has 100 drums of 4 year old fuel (that is labeled with a re-test date of 2 years ago) that he expects you to burn regularly for a month....?

 

Better yet, what if I tell you that I expect you to burn it (knowing that ultimately the PIC is the one responsible to ensure only approved fuel is used? The supplier wiped his hands of relsponsibilty when the retest date came and went.

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Now, forget about that one time you got to a fuel cash and took a chance to get home.

 

What if I send you on a job and you show up and the client has 100 drums of 4 year old fuel (that is labeled with a re-test date of 2 years ago) that he expects you to burn regularly for a month....?

 

Better yet, what if I tell you that I expect you to burn it (knowing that ultimately the PIC is the one responsible to ensure only approved fuel is used? The supplier wiped his hands of relsponsibilty when the retest date came and went.

 

If you were my ops manager and you asked me that, I would ask you to kindly send me a written note (ie e-mail) authorizing me to use that fuel in your company's aircraft along with an explanation as to why you are so authorizing me to do so despite the fact it is not authorized in the aircraft flight manual and I would then give a copy to the client and ask him to sign his approval to the fact I would be carrying him and his employees in my aircraft burning this fuel. I would then make sure a copy of that is in that special folder in my e-mail account that my brother knows he has to check if ever something happens to me in the line of duty...

 

Pretty sure you'd never send me that e-mail... ;)

 

Only after that would I even bother testing the fuel...

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It always amazes me what some pilots and operators will do to keep the client happy. Even if it means using substandard fuel - because the client wasn't smart enough and ordered 4 years worth of fuel (When it has a 1-2 year shelf life). Just because it is common practice with some, does not make it legal.

 

It also amazes that clients are willing to take these risks with their people. During the bid proces the clients emphasis is all about safety; when it comes down to completing the job on schedule and on budget, they'll burn expired jet fuel.

 

We just walked away from a government contract for that reason. Another operator is doing the job and he has convinced the client they are more experienced and have training And equipment in place to ensure the quality of fuel meets standard.

 

The client is happy about this (because he doesn't need to explain to anyone why he ordered 4 years if fuel)...if I hear about an accident, many will have some explaining to do. We've also raised our concerns with TC.

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As Jim said....when I was flying the dew line back to Tuk from Spence Bay in 1987 I used fuel drums from 1968-72...good inspection, good filters, good color, good to go....:)

With fuel containing FSII additive: How is the clear and bright test working out for you these days? During the winter months (or when temps drop rapidly, the fuel can be so cloudy you can't see the bottom of the drum. This is normal even with fresh fuel. FSII is also a very strong solvent which can deteriorate fuel tanks and drum liners. We've seen failed drum liners plug filters, the pilot could not see the flakes in the fuel.

FUEL containing FSII has a variety of issues (Apple jelly being one). The longer the fuel sits the more likely the FSII will cause you grief. The supplier suggests frequent drains of your tanks when using fuel with FSII; obviously this is not possible wit a drum.

 

We never saw cloudy fuel less than a decade ago. Water and contamination could easily be spotted as slugs at the bottom. Now good fuel can be cloudy. Microbial contamination is almost impossible to spot in cloudy fuel. If it's 4 years old, the likelihood is quite high.

 

Now, Add fact that the fuel alone degrades (volatility and other properties) quicker than traditional fuels. It seems to me like we've put a lot of responsibilty on the PIC and he likely can't be certain as to the quality in many cases.

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Hmmm, we stopped working in Ontario because of cloudy fuel the other operator was using(no, not your company). They said was normal, but when below -20 went cloudy and plugged the filters, the customer said it is not clogging the other company's filters, maybe should get them. So they got us some jet B for very cold ops that did not cloud, as the fuel supplier would NOT provide documentation that we could use cloudy fuel in our helicopter. They were insistant that they were provided information from us such as, what nozzle we have, what bonding we have, on and on. I said it failed the first test,,,clear and bright, then it failed the second test by clogging our go-no gos.

 

The crew stood up the drums that went cloudy and checked them and the "magic" number seemed -19 for the fuel to go cloudy. Warmer temps the fuel was clear and did not plug filter.

 

My guess is that the fuel they had would not pass the milpor test when pumped from the multiple tankers and into drums as had too much suspended water thus anti-icing fluid which had surrounded the water was more prevalent. The fuel was about third hand(brand x from aircantoday from who knows to refinery). Fuel supplier not a petroleum refinery company of course will not supply you with documentation for this as they are a middle man.

 

If you have documentation for burning cloudy fuel, perhaps share. This has been an issue the last 6 years and every time someone comes out and says is ok,,,,it gets recinded(sp?). Main cause of issues in fuel controls is bad fuel and they love to blame drums. But I believe that fuel in drums is probably looked more than any other fuel.

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Hmmm, we stopped working in Ontario because of cloudy fuel the other operator was using(no, not your company). They said was normal, but when below -20 went cloudy and plugged the filters, the customer said it is not clogging the other company's filters, maybe should get them. So they got us some jet B for very cold ops that did not cloud, as the fuel supplier would NOT provide documentation that we could use cloudy fuel in our helicopter. They were insistant that they were provided information from us such as, what nozzle we have, what bonding we have, on and on. I said it failed the first test,,,clear and bright, then it failed the second test by clogging our go-no gos.

 

The crew stood up the drums that went cloudy and checked them and the "magic" number seemed -19 for the fuel to go cloudy. Warmer temps the fuel was clear and did not plug filter.

 

My guess is that the fuel they had would not pass the milpor test when pumped from the multiple tankers and into drums as had too much suspended water thus anti-icing fluid which had surrounded the water was more prevalent. The fuel was about third hand(brand x from aircantoday from who knows to refinery). Fuel supplier not a petroleum refinery company of course will not supply you with documentation for this as they are a middle man.

 

If you have documentation for burning cloudy fuel, perhaps share. This has been an issue the last 6 years and every time someone comes out and says is ok,,,,it gets recinded(sp?). Main cause of issues in fuel controls is bad fuel and they love to blame drums. But I believe that fuel in drums is probably looked more than any other fuel.

I returned excessively cloudy drums to E$$o (in Geraldton? can't remember...anyways around there) a few years ago. They were reluctant at first to take them back because the seal was broken, but did take them all back. Same thing, winter temps and the suspended moisture eventually slowed down the refuelling filter.

 

Now, I may be wrong, but is the B3 better protected against moist (not wet) fuel, because it heats the fuel with engine oil?

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I loved that post about having your boss and customer sign emails authorizing you to use outdated fuel....then you go flying. Huh??? Let's face it, an email signed by Her Majesty the Queen, His Holiness the Pope or even Justin Bieber won't make the aircraft any safer. You can either fly or you can't. These letters of endemnity simply prove you had prior knowledge of a hazard. Yes, our job is full of hazards, but it is up to us to minimize risk to an acceptable (flyable) level, or refuse the flight. Sadly, if something tragic does happen to you, I would suggest that your brother does not go looking for your emails.....they may put your grieving family and employer in a very bad position. So study your RFM, read the MSDS sheets and articles like this, then grow a pair and make an informed, clear decision. Kudos to those pilots above that refused and returned drums. That is what our passengers, employer and families expect from us.

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Hmmm, we stopped working in Ontario because of cloudy fuel the other operator was using(no, not your company). They said was normal, but when below -20 went cloudy and plugged the filters, the customer said it is not clogging the other company's filters, maybe should get them. So they got us some jet B for very cold ops that did not cloud, as the fuel supplier would NOT provide documentation that we could use cloudy fuel in our helicopter. They were insistant that they were provided information from us such as, what nozzle we have, what bonding we have, on and on. I said it failed the first test,,,clear and bright, then it failed the second test by clogging our go-no gos.

 

The crew stood up the drums that went cloudy and checked them and the "magic" number seemed -19 for the fuel to go cloudy. Warmer temps the fuel was clear and did not plug filter.

 

My guess is that the fuel they had would not pass the milpor test when pumped from the multiple tankers and into drums as had too much suspended water thus anti-icing fluid which had surrounded the water was more prevalent. The fuel was about third hand(brand x from aircantoday from who knows to refinery). Fuel supplier not a petroleum refinery company of course will not supply you with documentation for this as they are a middle man.

 

If you have documentation for burning cloudy fuel, perhaps share. This has been an issue the last 6 years and every time someone comes out and says is ok,,,,it gets recinded(sp?). Main cause of issues in fuel controls is bad fuel and they love to blame drums. But I believe that fuel in drums is probably looked more than any other fuel.

I don't have documentation about burning foggy fuel handy; but I'll look back in my at my archives.

 

I understand how FSII works and that all fuel has a natural water content...when temperatures drop quickly, fuel will precipitate some if this natural dissolved water and the FSII will bond to it (keeping it suspended). Some times it there is enough suspended undisolved water to make the fuel appear hazy. It is designed to work this way to prevent water slugs from forming and entering the fuel system. Suspended water is preferable.

 

While we discourage the use of any cloudy fuel, and advise pilots to not burn them, the fact is (as you mentioned) depending on outside air temperature the fuel might look clear and bright one day, then cloudy the next.

 

If you can't see the bottom of the drum, it likely had some sort of contamination, but we have seen cases where it tests negative using a variety of tests (for water). The following day the fuel looks normal (clear and bright). If the drum (or sample jar) is warmed up by being brought inside it clears immediately.

 

Some of This fuel has also been tested in a lab to meet standard (after being reported as being cloudy by the pic)

 

The point I was trying to make was that the fuel that is readily available today (often purchased by our clients) is not the same as what was readily available a few years ago. You seem to agree (saying this has come up in the past 6 years)

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I guess the problem with cloudy fuel is in most cases you have just arrived at this cache, you have no idea if yesterday at -5'C the fuel was clear. Now it is -30'C and the fuel is cloudy,,,,why is it so(crappy fuel or as excess suspended water or fsII)? I have a very hard time with saying this is ok. We have to ensure the fuel is clear and bright at all times unless there is authorization from fuel company stipulating it. ESPECIALLY now with as you say the fuel is not refined to the same standards it was. I would rather burn old clear fuel than new fuel that is cloudy,,,,just saying.

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