NBAA honored Capt. Bruce Monnier and the co-captain, Gerald Downs, of air ambulance operator Air Trek with its first NBAA Above and Beyond Airmanship Award during a virtual safety town hall October 7. The award “recognizes action taken to avoid injury, loss of life, and/or major or catastrophic business aircraft damage,” the NBAA said in a news release.
On May 9, 2019, the jet was one of two Air Trek aircraft that received fuel contaminated with diesel exhaust fluid, a urea-based chemical used to reduce diesel engine emissions that had been added in error to the fuel supply in a fuel truck at Punta Gorda Airport in Florida. DEF is not intended for use in aircraft, and can trigger chemical reactions leading to the formation of crystals that can clog filters or damage engines.
AOPA reported at the time that both jets departed Air Trek’s Punta Gorda base and flew to Naples, Florida, where medical technicians, patients, and patients’ family members boarded. One Citation was headed to Niagara Falls, New York, when it experienced an engine flameout over the Atlantic Ocean north of Savannah, Georgia. It lost its second engine while diverting to Savannah but was able to glide to a safe landing. The other Citation was bound for Chicago when it experienced an engine failure and landed safely in Louisville, Kentucky. In all, 13 occupants escaped without injury, Air Trek said. Both aircraft were declared total losses.
Monnier and Downs shared their thoughts about the emergency with AOPA Air Safety Institute Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden in this episode of the There I was… podcast.
Among the challenges they faced, Monnier said, was that “there’s no checklist for dual engine failure” in the Citation II. Also, the pilots were uncertain whether the landing gear would operate normally or would have to be extended pneumatically—blown down, as the pilots described that contingency—once landing on the runway was assured.
On the positive side, they said, the crew felt like they were “ahead of the airplane” throughout the emergency, and that their combined experience, including Downs’s glider rating, and their coordination created a calm cockpit environment with easy communications.
Incidents including the Air Trek flights have highlighted concerns from the aviation industry of the high risk of fuel contamination from DEF that will persist as long as the substance must be used in airport vehicles according to environmental mandates.
AOPA has worked to educate the general aviation community about the DEF fuel-contamination hazard. In August 2019, numerous other aviation stakeholders joined AOPA in signing a letter to FAA and Environmental Protection Agency leadership urging that “non-road, on-airport ground support equipment and vehicles, including fuel and maintenance trucks, that are used to service general aviation aircraft” be exempted from having to use DEF. The EPA has not yet responded, despite congressional follow-up inquiries.
The FAA has told AOPA that it is updating Advisory Circular 150/5230-4C. The AC addresses misfuelling and DEF contamination incidents and provides guidance on creating, implementing, and documenting fuel fire safety programs required under FAA regulations.
The October 7 NBAA town hall event also featured a flight safety discussion moderated by aviation journalist Miles O’Brien, who was joined by McSpadden and the well-known flight training experts John and Martha King of King Schools.