Lautenberg, Menendez Release New Report Showing More Planes Landing In Newark Low On Fuel

Lautenberg, Menendez Release New Report Showing More Planes Landing In Newark Low On Fuel

Senators Say Airlines Need to Better Balance Customer Safety, Cost Savings

Washington - Today, Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) released a report showing an increasing number of planes landing at Newark Liberty International Airport that were low on fuel. While pilots ensured no passengers were put at risk, planes often had fuel levels so low they nearly declared emergencies and were given priority to land by air traffic controllers according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety guidelines.

As a result of the Senators' inquiry, FAA has issued new guidance clarifying when pilots should make minimum fuel declarations and emergency fuel declarations. Continental Airlines, the largest airline at Newark Airport, has also increased its fuel management oversight and has begun using newer technology to reduce the weight of their planes on international flights, including the use of carbon brakes, which can save 600 pounds per aircraft.

Senator Menendez said, "For far too long the Federal Aviation Administration was unaware as planes were landing at Newark low on fuel. Thankfully there were no major disasters, but aircraft should not be cutting it that close - with airline safety there is no margin for error. I am encouraged to know that the FAA is now addressing this problem, but it should not take letters from lawmakers to guarantee the safety of the flying public. One day, I hope that the FAA will be able to be proactive and not need to be asked to do its job."

"Our highest priority must be to keep the flying public safe. I'm glad the report found no immediate danger to passengers-but no airline company should force a pilot to choose between their pension and public safety," Senator Lautenberg said. "I will make sure the federal government does its job to oversee the airline industry so our passengers can have confidence when they fly."

The report was completed by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Inspector General (IG) at Senator Lautenberg's request, after a New Jersey ABC-TV affiliate discovered a high number of "low fuel advisory" landings at Newark Airport in 2007.
While the IG concluded that no FAA minimum safety regulations were violated, the report detailed how one air traffic control facility in the New Jersey-New York region saw an increase in low fuel declarations over the prior two years at Newark Liberty International Airport: 151 in 2007, 72 in 2006 and 44 in 2005. The complete report can be found at

There are two types of low fuel-related declarations pilot give to air traffic controllers:

  • Emergency Fuel Declarations: declared by pilots when their fuel levels go below the amount of fuel required to get to the nearest alternate airport plus 45 minutes of continued flying. These declarations give the pilot an immediate landing priority.
  • Minimum Fuel Declarations: given when a pilot is approaching his emergency reserve fuel level.

New Jersey-New York area controllers are especially sensitive to these declarations: in 1990, an Avianca airline flight crew failed to adequately convey its plane's low fuel status when approaching John F. Kennedy International Airport and crashed, killing 73 people.

All of the flights examined in the IG's analysis had an average of 64 minutes of fuel left, and none below 45 minutes. However, this analysis did not include planes that had to make a fuel stop during the trip.

The IG also found that many of these incidents involved one type of aircraft-the Boeing 757-on Trans-Atlantic routes. As a narrow-body, 2-engine plane, the 757 has a lower fuel capacity and smaller range than other planes used on trans-Atlantic flights.

In addition, the report indicated concern about two memos written by one airline to its pilots warning them against adding fuel to their planes; one memo stated that adding fuel reduces employee profit-sharing and possibly pension funding.

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