How common is it for fuel caps to fall off planes?

Embry-Riddle professor has the answer

By Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. - A Winter Garden woman was shocked on Aug. 1 when a fuel plane cap plummeted down from the sky and landed smack dab in her swimming pool with a splash and a bang.

The FAA said it is going to take a few more weeks to find out where the aircraft fuel cap came from.

The story seems so bizarre in part because it almost never happens, according to Eric Jones, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor and department chairman for Aviation Maintenance Sciences.

He characterized the incident as "very unusual," noting that there are mechanisms in place to keep these kind of things from happening.

There are two types of fueling methods for aircraft: over-wing refueling, which is similar to how most motorists pump gas into their cars, and single-point refueling, which involves high-pressure fluid running through a hose.

To save on time, most commercial jet crews opt to use the second method.

No matter the approach, it's up to the fueler to make sure the fuel cap is securely in place before the aircraft departs. There's also a safety management system that involves someone walking around the plane to make sure panels are closed, caps are twisted tight and no other parts could possibly come loose.

Jones said that because there are so many precautions, it's extremely rare for a fuel cap or any other part of a plane to fall and it's even more remarkable that it landed in a residential area, much less a swimming pool. Caps of this type can weigh anywhere from a few ounces to 2 pounds.

Those on board the flight wouldn't notice anything was off since the caps are designed to be aerodynamic with the wing and there's a secondary cap in place to ensure that no fuel leaks in instances like these.

Now it'll be up to the aircraft operator to replace the cap, generate a maintenance report noting that it's missing and contact the Federal Aviation Administration to report the mishap.

It's highly unlikely that the cap will be put back on the plane since someone at the FAA has to determine that fuel parts are serviceable before they can be used on any plane.

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