'Contaminated' aircraft fuel could have led to deaths, say aviation experts

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The Independent Online

Aviation safety authorities said lives could have been lost last year when light aircraft fuel containing higher than normal levels of an anticorrosion chemical clogged engine components with black sludge.

Aviation safety authorities said lives could have been lost last year when light aircraft fuel containing higher than normal levels of an anticorrosion chemical clogged engine components with black sludge.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau executive director Kym Bills said the problem involving fuel made by oil giant Mobil was uncommon, and it was just a matter of luck that there no fatalities.

About 5,000 small aircraft in eastern Australia were grounded in January last year after a problem was detected with some plane fuel systems.

"The problem was widespread ... and there were a number of aircraft incidents involving power loss, but there were no serious injuries or fatalities," Bills said. "It could have been much worse."

In an official report on the fuel scare, the ATSB said the problem stemmed from a temporary variation in the aviation fuel production process at Mobil's Melbourne refinery in late 1999.

An increased dosage of an anticorrosion chemical was added to the fuel by a contractor to the plant. The chemical was not fully removed from the final production of the fuel, known as avgas. It reacted with other aircraft components to form the sludge.

Bills also said there was a lack of transparency in the aviation fuel industry, which the ATSB has since addressed with 24 recommendations aimed at fuel producers, regulators and international bodies which set fuel standards.

"I would hope that Mobil do take this on the chin and act swiftly to implement the recommendations we have made to minimize any risks in the future," he said.

Mobil did not immediately react, but last year the company announced a compensation package to cover losses for pilots whose aircraft were grounded by the crisis.

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