Environmental impact of emergency landings

When something goes wrong and a plane has to land outside its destination pilots have to usually dump fuel to avoid a humongous fireball of doom. What I have never seen are discussions about the environmental impact of that dumping. I mean, you get a huge fine if you dump fuel on your garden. Is there anything that is done after an emergency landing to clear the mess made by fuel? Isn’t it also dangerous that this fuel could ignite and go caboom?

Dumping Fuel in Flight

I’m sure a commercial airline pilot will be along shortly with better information.

Not all aircraft can dump fuel. The DC-9 series is just one example.

When aircraft do have to dump fuel, it evaporates pretty quickly. While it’s not great for the environment, it’s also not that big of a deal.

The dumped fuel catching fire is unlikely as there’s usually no source of ignition. However I did work on one aircraft that had its fuel dump mask right between the two engines that had afterburner - the F-111. It put on quite a show.


It’s not common for planes to dump fuel before an e-landing; relatively few planes are equipped to do this. Dumping fuel does mitigate the consequences of a post-crash fire, but as I understand it the purpose is to get the landing weight down to acceptable levels.

If a plane does dump fuel, the dump point isn’t going to be right next to an engine (F-111 excepted), so there’s not really a fire hazard. The trail of fuel mist behind the aircraft just gets dispersed in the air over a distance of many miles. There’s not really any cleanup that’s feasible.

Indeed. I was once sent to a small airport to conduct soil and water sampling around the crash site of a small Cessna-esque single-engine plane that had gone off the runway during an emergency landing in poor conditions. Between the spilled fuel and whatever was in the foam the fire fighters sprayed on the plane, there was a fair-sized zone of contamination around the crash site.

As a bonus the wreckage was right next to the only runway at the airport, and I got to ponder it during both my arrival and departure.

Details of the crash - thanks internet. Not an emergency landing at all, just plain ol’ pilot error! Guess my previous post doesn’t do much to answer the OP’s question then.

But that reminds me… Part of the reason the contamination was so extensive was because the emergency response crew washed the spilled fuel off the runway and onto the adjacent grass. Officially that done to make sure the airport was up and running ASAP. Unofficially, it was because the locals would use the runway after-hours for ball-hockey games, and the staff wanted to make sure the playing surface was in good shape.

I love small-town Canada.

Only if you get caught! :smiley:

Just a reminder: Jet engine fuel is not anything exotic or incredibly toxic, its just kerosene. Smaller gasoline engine aircraft actually still use leaded gas, but I doubt many (if any) of those are equipped to dump their fuel.

Breakdown of petroleum products like jet fuel would be faster in air than in soil or water, due to the action of UV light from the sun. Also, it is dispersed much more easily, whereas a ground spill can be present for years and years.

Lesser of two evils, but in an emergency, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Yeah, as mentioned above, there aren’t that many aircraft that can dump fuel, and there aren’t many situations where you have to dump fuel even if you can. Confusion arrises because news reports often mention that a aircraft dumped fuel but what really happened was the aircraft flew a holding pattern for a while until enough fuel was burned by the engines for it to be down to its max landing weight.