[Removes incorrect "crash" reference in second paragraph. The aircraft in fact landed safely and under its own power.]
A final report into an incident in 2005 in which a Fairchild Metro III nearly ran out of fuel while on a domestic flight in Australia has blamed maintenance procedures as well as the airline's operational practices.
The 23 September 2005 incident involved a Metro III (VH-SEF) operated by Sunshine Express Airlines. The aircraft was operating a domestic flight between Thangool and Brisbane in Queensland. On board were 16 passengers and two pilots.
During the flight, when the aircraft was around 180km (100nm) north-west of Brisbane, the left fuel transfer pump amber caution light illuminated indicating low fuel, although the fuel quantity indicator showed "substantial fuel in the tanks", says the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau (ATSB) in its final report.
It says the crew completed checklist actions, but the warning light remained on and they diverted to Bundaberg. Around 18km from Bundaberg the left engine stopped, resulting in a single-engine landing.
The fuel tanks were subsequently drained and it was found that just 2 litres (0.5USgal) of fuel remained in the left tank and just 28 litres in the right tank, "sufficient for about 10min flight", says the ATSB.
"Faults were found in a number of components of the fuel quantity indicating system," the board says.
"The maintenance manual procedures for calibration of the fuel quantity indicating system had not been followed correctly on two occasions in the previous 10 days. The result was that the fuel quantity indicating system was over-reading" and the aircraft had departed Brisbane "with only 65% of the amount of fuel the crew believed was on board".
The ATSB adds: "The crew relied on the fuel quantity indicator to determine the quantity of fuel on the aircraft before the flight. The practice was common to most of the operator's crews.
"The fuel quantity management procedures and practices within the company did not ensure validation of the aircraft's fuel quantity indicator reading. There was also no system in place to track the aircraft's fuel status during and after maintenance."
In summary, the ATSB says: "The investigation found a number of safety factors that contributed to the fuel quantity system over-reading and leading to the usable fuel in the left tank being exhausted causing the left engine to stop.
"Those factors included both maintenance procedures and operational practices that allowed a discrepancy between the indicated and actual fuel on board the aircraft to remain undetected."