A CFI and private pilot were attempting to do a two-leg cross-country flight in a Cirrus SR20. Before takeoff from Danbury, Conn., the CFI used a flashlight to look in the fuel tanks and determined they contained 25 gallons of usable fuel, and that the flight would require 23.3 gallons of fuel. He then entered 22 gallons in the airplane’s multifunction display (MFD) fuel totalizer. The airplane reached its destination airport and landed without incident. He did not refuel.
Shortly after takeoff for the return flight, the low fuel caution light illuminated, then the engine lost power. The CFI deployed the airplane’s parachute system and the Cirrus descended into trees about three miles northeast of the airport.
The post-accident examination of the airplane did not reveal any mechanical malfunctions or failures, however less than one gallon of fuel was drained from the fuel tanks.
The president of the flight school stated that, two days before the accident, he had 42 gallons of fuel added to the fuel tanks. He then entered 40 gallons in the airplane’s MFD fuel totalizer. He flew two more flights and estimated that the fuel totalizer should have indicated between 14 and 16 gallons before the first leg of the accident flight.
Recorded MFD data showed that the total amount of fuel used since the last refueling was 42.4 gallons. Investigators determined that it was likely that the flight instructor overestimated the amount of fuel in the airplane before departure and entered the wrong amount into the MFD fuel totalizer, which led to an erroneous display of the actual amount of fuel remaining and his belief that the airplane had sufficient fuel for the flight.
The NTSB attributed the accident to fuel exhaustion caused by the flight instructor’s inadequate preflight inspection in which he incorrectly estimated the airplane’s fuel quantity and his improper reliance on the fuel totalizer rather than the fuel quantity indicating and warning systems to determine the fuel on board.
NTSB Identification: ERA13LA117
This January 2013 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.