Two jets received a contaminated fuel mix from the Punta Gorda Airport (PGD) earlier this month, causing one plane to land without a working engine.
There were no injuries from this incident.
Two Cessna Citation 550 twinjets received fuel at PGD that was contaminated with diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). The fluid was added to the fuel supply of a fuel truck by mistake and is not intended for use in aircraft, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).
DEF is a clear, colorless, urea-based chemical that is used to reduce diesel-engine emissions, typically used for large diesel trucks, but when added to jet fuel can trigger reactions that can form crystals that can plug fuel filters and damage engine components.
After filling up with the contaminated fuel, one airplane experienced an engine flameout at 35,000 feet, which caused the engine to lose its flame ignition, preventing the pilot from being able to “accelerate” the plane, according to Richard McSpadden, the executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Institute.
Then the plane descended to 8,000 feet to Savannah, Georgia and experienced a second engine flameout on approach, according to David Oord, the AOPA senior director of Regulatory Affairs.
The first aircraft landed “without either engine (operating and) without injuries,” Oord said.
“This rarely happens,” McSpadden said. “The pilot can’t accelerate; there’s no power to maintain a level flight.”
Pilots in this situation have to set their air speed to give them the maximum gliding range.
“It’s like if you were driving up to your house and wanted to park exactly in your garage,” he said. “And you shut the engine off ... you have to time it right.”
“I commend the pilot,” he said. “For them to keep a cool head ... that’s excellent piloting.”
The second aircraft experienced an engine flameout at 36,000 feet, descended, and then landed with one working engine in Louisville without injuries, Oord said.
Both planes originally landed at the Naples Airport in Florida, where they took more fuel, boarded passengers and departed for separate destinations.
The events are still under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to FAA spokesperson Kathleen Bergen.
This incident was isolated to the operations of one fuel truck, according to PGD spokesperson Kaley Miller.
“The fuel itself on the truck had not been (and is not) contaminated,” Miller said in an e-mail. “However, the icing inhibitor injective additive appears to have been cross contaminated with DEF.”
This additive is only used in small general aviation jet aircraft, and not the commercial airline aircraft at PGD, Miller said. The few affected aircraft owners were contacted regarding the issue.
“We have continued safe fueling operations with no related issues,” Miller said.
The airport is working with FAA’s Flight Standards District Office and Southern Regional Airports Division, and has also brought in a third party to review procedures and make further recommendations, Miller said.
“I am extremely disappointed that this incident occurred at PGD, and will do everything in my power to ensure it never happens again,” said James Parish, the CEO of PGD.
A similar incident occurred at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport in August of 2018.
“Any amount of (DEF) is too much,” McSpadden said. “We have to figure out how this can be happening.”
UPDATE: This story was updated May 29 after the release of new information.