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High Standards Are Not Enough

Special Report - SafetyThe Cathay Pacific incident and fuel contamination at Tel Aviv have highlighted the need for strong fuel quality standards, but quality assurance isn’t about standards alone.

Just as crucial are an inspection system that ensures compliance with those standards and a proper action plan for resolving any non-conformity.

The ICAO Aviation Fuel Quality Manual will be a step forward. IATA is playing an active role in the publication, a first draft of which came out in June 2011. The crucial guidance material is expected to be published in early 2012.

ICAO is also working on Annex 19 to the Chicago Convention, which will deal with safety management. This too will cover fuel quality via safety management systems, which have an important role to play. While the ICAO Manual is guidance material and as such implementation is voluntary, an Annex can include mandatory requirements. Exactly what will be included in Annex 19 is still being discussed.

Various quality programs and inspection processes are already in place: FAR 121.73 in the United States and EU-OPS 1, for example. Inspections are carried out by the Joint Inspection Group, IATA Fuel Quality Pool, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the European Aviation Safety Agency, among others.

“The crucial point is that airlines are ultimately responsible for ensuring the quality of fuel put into their aircraft,” says Hemant Mistry, IATA Director for Industry Charges, Fuel and Taxation. “As long as that remains the case, we need very clear guidelines about what is expected in terms of fuel quality.”

All the work leads up to a single, crucial question: should an inspector have the power to shut down an airport if fuel quality is compromised? It’s a big decision, but safety is a big matter. The home carrier has a great responsibility in such situations and must always lead the way in dealing with the local facility.

Michel Baljet, IATA Assistant Director for Fuel Services, says that inspectors should have the power within their own airlines to stop flights to a destination if they believe the fuel quality is suspect, adding that they would always warn other airlines about their findings. “We are working together with Airlines for America [formerly known as the Air Transport Association] to create a 24/7 accessible Internet-based fuel portal, to warn airlines in case of fuel disruptions of any kind,” he explains. “That system is expected to be operational in mid-2012.”

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