By Rob Finfrock
In an insightful – and, at times, disquieting – presentation at CJP 2016, master CFI and jet mentor Neil Singer offered an extensive review of “A Crossing Gone (Very) Wrong,” detailing the 2009 ferry flight of a Piaggio P.180 Avanti turboprop twin that ended with an emergency landing due to a rapidly dwindling fuel supply.
“We’ll look at all the factors that led to this picture,” Singer began, referring to a large image of the broken airplane on a glacier in southern Greenland. “I want to be very clear: my intention is not to crucify this pilot, but to look at what contributed to this final outcome.”
The planned route required several fuel stops, with the first day’s flying taking the plane – that offers essentially identical performance figures as a Citation M2 – from Kuwait to Scotland, with stops in Turkey and Vienna. The next day, the pilot flew to Reykjavík-Keflavík International Airport (BIKF) before departing for his intended destination of Narsarsuaq (BGBW) with a planned fuel reserve more than 90 minutes beyond the filed two-hour flight time.
“Total distance was only around 700 nautical miles,” Singer noted. “It might reasonably present a pilot with the expectation that this is not a particularly fuel-challenged flight.”
Things began going astray soon after departure, however, with ATC restricting the Avanti to FL200 – a common procedure in the area – instead of the filed altitude of FL280. This effectively eliminated the available fuel reserve, but the pilot continued towards Narsarsuaq.
The situation grew worse, however, when the pilot was forced to go missed into Narsarsuaq due to low IMC, a frequent occurrence at the airfield. He then diverted to his filed alternate of Sondrestrom (BGSF) but, again, the flight was restricted to lower-than optimal altitude of FL190. At some point, however, the pilot “finally took proper PIC authority,” Singer noted, “and said this isn’t going to work at 190. I need to get up to FL320.”
Once he levelled off at FL320, the FMS showed 60 lbs of fuel remaining on arrival to BGSF. “This was the last chance for me not to be talking about this in front of you,” Singer said. “Had he stayed at 320 or, better yet, gone higher, this would have had a happy outcome.”
Unfortunately, believing he could further conserve fuel, the pilot then intentionally shut down one of the aircraft’s engines. “For the Piaggio, the Danish accident board computed this actually reduces the per-mile efficiency by about 10 percent,” Singer said – again drawing a comparison to similar performance numbers for the M2.
The pilot also chose to initiate a shallow descent towards BGSF, increasing fuel burn even more. Finally, with just 50 pounds of fuel remaining, the pilot opted to make the precautionary landing 70 nm away from Sondrestrom.
Among the possible “outs” available to the pilot, Singer noted, would have been a precautionary landing at Kulusuk (BGKK) located roughly halfway between Reykjavik and Sondrestrom. However, he cautioned, the pilot may not have even been aware of the airport – nor might many Citation pilots facing the same situation.
“We have a limitation that we can only land on paved runways, especially the newer ones,” he explained. “Kulusuk has an NDB approach, 773′ minimums. It has a 4,000 foot, gravel runway. If I’m flying behind a G1000 or G3000 and I put my filter for hard-surfaces only, and I hit Nearest Airports, am I going to see this airport? No.”
Terrain on the rollout tore the Piaggio to pieces, but the pilot survived and, equally amazing, an experienced search-and-rescue pilot safely navigated through high terrain and deteriorating weather to quickly locate the accident site, 24 miles from the pilot’s last reported position.
“To me, that is really an absolute miracle,” Singer added. “The pilot was found in the cabin with minor injuries. The wind chill was around minus 12 Fahrenheit, and he had no arctic survival equipment onboard.”
Singer concluded with some lessons pilots could take from this example. That includes a thorough preflight review of the likely terrain, weather, and ATC environment when operating in unfamiliar locations, and proper understanding of your aircraft’s performance envelopes.
“I suspect many of the individual errors made by this pilot have been made by many of us in this room,” he said. “Including me.”