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Fuel Dumping - Guidance for Controllers

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Category: Emergency & Contingency Emergency and Contingency
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There is no set of ready, out-of-the-box rules that can be followed universally. As with any unusual or emergency situation, controllers should exercise their best judgment and expertise when dealing a fuel dumping situation. A generic checklist for handling unusual situations is readily available from EUROCONTROL but it is not intended to be exhaustive and is best used in conjunction with local ATC procedures.

Fuel Jettison


Fuel Jettison, more commonly referred to as Fuel Dumping, is the intentional, controlled, jettison of fuel from an aircraft whilst in flight. Not all aircraft designs incorporate a fuel dump capability and, even if dump capability is inherent to a particular aircraft type, a specific aircraft of that type may or may not be fitted with fuel jettison capability.

Fuel dump may be initiated by the pilot to lighten the aircraft when performance is compromised due to failure of one or more engines whilst in flight. It can also be used to reduce the aircraft weight to a value below maximum landing weight when compelled to land earlier than expected due to a turnback or an enroute diversion.

Useful to Know

Fuel dump could be initiated without any forewarning and at almost any altitude, as might be the case should an engine failure, in combination with another performance limiting malfunction, occur on takeoff. Whilst it is likely that the pilot would declare an emergency in this situation, it is equally unlikely that they would have the time immediately available to detail any specific actions (including dumping fuel) that they might be taking.

For a more benign circumstance such as a fuel dump due to diversion or turnback, it is likely that the pilot will pre-notify ATS and seek guidance/clearance for altitude and location prior to commencing the fuel dump.

What to Provide

Best practice embedded in the ASSIST principle could be followed (A - Acknowledge; S - Separate, S - Silence; I - Inform, S - Support, T - Time):

  • A - acknowledge the emergency, ask for intentions and provide information regarding suitable fuel dumping areas and altitudes as well as suitable landing aerodromes as necessary;
  • S - separate the aircraft from other traffic. If such an area exists, vector the aircraft to the designated fuel dumping area. Ensure that dumping occurs at an altitude that will allow evaporation/dissipation of the fuel before it reaches the ground - 5000 to 6000" AGL is usually sufficient.
  • S - silence the non-urgent calls (as required) and use separate frequency where possible;
  • I - inform the supervisor and other sectors/units concerned; inform the airport emergency fire rescue services and all concerned parties according to local procedures;
  • S - support the flight by providing any information requested and necessary such as type of approach, runway length and any additional aerodrome details, etc.
  • T - provide time for the crew to assess the situation, execute the dumping procedure and complete associated checklists - don’t press with non urgent matters.

Mitigating Strategies

To mitigate the effect of fuel dumping, the following additional guidelines should be considered by ATCOs:

  • Clear airspace in the immediate vicinity of the emergency aircraft - provide adequate horizontal and vertical separation between the aircraft dumping fuel and other traffic
  • Try to vector the aircraft clear of populated areas during the fuel dump process
  • Determine the amount of time needed for the fuel dump
  • Consider the possibility of a blocked runway in the event that, after landing, the Pilot in Command elects to stop on the runway for an aircraft inspection

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Further Reading