Refuelling with Passengers on Board

Refuelling with Passengers on Board


This article gives an overview of the safety measures associated with aircraft refuelling with passengers on board and the duties of the personnel involved. The recommendations are not to be considered exhaustive and should not take precedence over local rules and procedures.

Whenever possible, passengers should be disembarked prior to the commencement of fuelling after flight arrival and boarded for departure after completion of any necessary refuelling. However, refuelling with passengers on board may be judged necessary if refuelling service cannot be obtained exactly when requested or in some special cases (e.g. if a patient cannot to be moved during a medical flight).

Accidents associated with refuelling operations are rare. However this should not lead to complacency as incidents such as fuel spillage occur frequently. All refuelling is a potentially hazardous operation and therefore requires diligence on the part of all those involved.

Operational standards and procedures

The risks associated with passengers embarking, disembarking or remaining on board the aircraft during fuelling should be considered, and effective procedures to mitigate those risks should be established. These procedures should:

  • be designed to enable rapid evacuation of all occupants of an aircraft, including any PRMs, should the need arise;
  • reduce the risk of ignition;
  • ensure the ground area into which passengers would evacuate is kept clear of equipment and obstacles;
  • ensure vehicles attending the aircraft do not impede access to the site by Rescue and Fire Fighting Service (RFFS) vehicles and personnel, or the egress of passengers evacuating the aircraft;
  • take account of local requirements in respect of the attendance of the RFFS;
  • in the case of medical flights, take into account the ability, or inability, of the patient and attendant staff to effect a rapid evacuation from the aircraft;
  • take into account the ability of those whose mobility is impaired to effect a rapid evacuation from the aircraft;
  • comply with the relevant authority requirements.

Refuelling with passenger on board may or may not be an option depending on the grade of fuel involved:

  • Refuelling with wide cut gasoline type fuel (JET B, JP4 or equivalent) or when a mixture with these types of fuel might occur, is not permitted with passengers boarding, on board or disembarking. In general, this type of fuel can be used as an alternative to Jet A-1 but because it is more difficult to handle (higher flammability) there is only significant demand in very cold climates where its better cold weather performance is important.
  • Refuelling with Kerosene (JET A, JET A1 JP8, TS1, RT, TH or equivalent, in accordance with the approved Aircraft Flight Manual), is allowed when passengers are boarding, on board, or disembarking.

General safety procedures

  • Cabin crew, passengers and other responsible staff should be warned that fuelling will take place and that they must not smoke, or operate electrical equipment or other potential sources of ignition. Operators may permit the use of cellular telephones inside the aircraft during refuelling.
  • Vehicle(s) and personnel from the RFFS should be by the aircraft before the procedure commences.
  • The aircraft illuminated 'NO SMOKING' signs should be on together with sufficient interior lighting to enable emergency exits to be identified. Such lighting should remain on until fuelling operations have been completed.

Note: On newer aircraft types the 'NO SMOKING' signs have been replaced by permanently visible unlit no smoking symbols.

  • The 'Fasten Seat Belts' signs should be switched off and passengers should be briefed to unfasten their seat belts.
  • Provision should be made, via at least two of the main passenger doors (or the main passenger door plus one emergency exit when only one main door is available), and preferably at opposing ends of the aircraft, for the safe evacuation of passengers in the event of an emergency. Throughout the fuelling operation, each of these doors should constantly be manned by at least one cabin crew member per door.
  • Two-way communication should be established between the flight deck and the ground refuelling supervisor using the aircraft inter-communication system or other suitable means.
  • Ground servicing activities and work within the aircraft, such as catering and cleaning, should be conducted in such a manner that they do not create a hazard or obstruct exits.
  • Inside the aircraft cabin the aisles and emergency exits should be kept clear of obstructions.
  • Whenever an exit with an inflatable escape slide is designated to meet the requirements for refuelling with passengers on board, the ground area beneath that exit and the slide deployment area should be kept clear of all external obstructions and the refuelling supervisor and/or relevant ramp staff informed accordingly.
  • The access paths to and from areas where potentially additional slides may be deployed if an evacuation is initiated should remain clear to enable service vehicles and personnel to clear these areas expeditiously if necessary.

Staff duties and responsibilities

Absolute authority for the decision to refuel with passengers on board must reside with the aircraft commander. They should ensure that either they or their explicitly designated representative remains on the flight deck throughout the time when refuelling with passengers on board is occurring. Teamwork is essential for normal safety standards to be maintained during such refuelling and there are a number of things that the personnel involved should be doing to achieve this:

  • The aircraft commander or his specifically authorised representative present in the flight deck should:
    • Where possible, establish direct communication with any ground engineer or ramp crew by interphone and if not possible agree alternative means
    • Inform the senior cabin crew member prior to the commencement and after the completion of refuelling
    • Keep watch for any interphone or visual alert of fire or risk of fire from the person supervising the refuelling on their behalf
    • Be prepared to order passenger evacuation if necessary
  • The designated dispatch supervisor should satisfy themselves that:
    • at least one pilot is present in the flight deck, all cabin crew are at their stations and any ground engineer required to be present is aware and appropriately positioned
    • The area beneath exits intended for emergency evacuation is and remains clear
    • The fire service has been advised
    • Any passenger boarding / disembarkation is achieved in a controlled manner
  • The ground engineer (or the equivalent supervisor of refuelling externally) should:
    • Ensure that a means of communication with the flight crew in any emergency has been agreed
    • Have agreed how communications with the pilot(s) on the flight deck will be achieved in an emergency
    • Ensure that the aircraft commander or his representative in the flight deck is made aware of the commencement and completion of refuelling
    • Immediately notify the pilot(s) present in the flight deck if a fire occurs or the risk of one is high
    • If an emergency evacuation is required, indicate to the pilot(s) present in the flight deck that exits that may be used are clear of obstructions
    • Ensure that refuelling is stopped if such a request is made by one of the flight crew.
  • The cabin crew should:
    • Inform passengers that smoking is not permitted and ensure that the "NO SMOKING" signs are on.
    • Inform passengers to unfasten (or not to fasten if boarding) their seat belts and check that the "FASTEN SEAT BELT" signs are off.
    • Check that all emergency exits are clear of internal obstructions and appear to be clear of external ones.
    • Ensure that the "EXIT" signs are all illuminated.
    • Ensure that ground servicing (e.g. catering or cleaning) cannot create a hazard, or delay an emergency evacuation.

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