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Bell Fuel and Tank Services

Aviation Fuel and Microbes

Aviation fuel is sometimes incorrectly assumed to be cleaner and more sterile than the fuels used in on-road or backup application. Yet, microbiological growth can occur at any stage in the jet fuel supply chain. In its life, jet fuel has multiple points of exposure to microbial growth risks. For aviation use, the consequences of these problems developing are unusually serious.

All along the aviation fuel supply chain, every stakeholder needs to remain aware of the potential and the risks that microbial contamination plays for aviation fuel - both its risks to aviation fuel quality and to aircraft operations and safety.

Microbiological contamination threatens everyone in the broader aviation sector: commercial airlines, private aviation operators, military personnel, airports large and small, MROs, FBOs, and aviation fuel suppliers.

Relevant industry associations like JIG and IATA do encourage a more pro-active approach towards how to manage this problem. Such approaches include preventing water accumulation in tanks -  an essential aspect that goes a long way towards minimizing the potential for contamination.

At the same time, there have been changes in the industry towards the options that are available - and not changes for the better. These have only increased the importance of the other key preventive steps all aviation stakeholders need to adopt. Not just water prevention but also microbiological testing of the fuel.

Fuel Pulse from Bell Performance serves as a key partner for aviation industry stakeholders who cannot afford to fall prey to the inevitable problems caused by microbiological contamination of aviation fuel and systems.

Microbial Testing 

microbial-testingSometimes it’s called “jet fuel fungus”. Some people call it algae, though technically it has nothing to do with that. Microbial contamination can turn a clean fuel tank into a heavily contaminated one in a surprisingly short amount of time - weeks, not months or years. Whether it’s an aviation storage tank or something else.

The corresponding problems are nothing to wink at - filter problems, expensive corrosion damage to key structures, even problems with fuel quantity indicators. Worst case scenario is total engine failure through restriction of the fuel supply. We really don’t need to go into detail on the potential downsides of that. 

Today’s aviation fuel situation has changed dramatically, limiting the options that aviation professionals have in remediating microbial contamination in jet fuel systems. Convention treatment of contamination involves not only removal of free water phases, but also treatment with biocides - the only thing that will kill active microbial contamination. But there are less than a handful of biocides approved for use in aviation fuel systems, and late in 2019-2020, those options decreased even further.

All of this points to how important microbial testing has become for aviation fuel and fuel systems. It’s the only way to know with reasonable certainty the actual level of microbial contamination in a fuel system. And it’s the only way to really know if the problem has been solved or not.

ATP Testing For Aviation

Common Problems 

Your fuel’s properties can tell you a lot about both its history and its future.  And they can point you in the right direction about what you should be doing for your fuel, if you know what they’re trying to tell you. Read more.

Jet fuel can be severely impacted by the growth of microbes such as bacteria and fungi.
Microbial contamination can cause premature failure of filters used in the aviation fuel supply chain.
Alloys used in aircraft fuel tanks are susceptible to Microbially Influenced Corrosion (MIC).
Microbial growth on Fuel Quantity Indicator System (FQIS) probes in aircraft fuel can cause erroneous readings.
Microbiological contamination of aviation fuel, especially stored fuel, is an increasingly serious issue for the industry.