DURING THE FIRST 10 years of my paid employment, I logged more than 3500 accident-free flying hours and sometimes arrived on fumes. After filling out the paperwork associated with a low fuel or emergency fuel condition, I realised several senior pilots were occasionally shutting down in the chocks with much less in the tanks than their fuel gauges showed. In fact, a 10 per cent error was expected with the fuel sensing systems, so it would be easy to combine a relaxed attitude about your fuel burn with a dodgy instrument cluster. The end result could result in a short landing (like the shot I saw via Twitter at left) or a flame-out on the way back to the parking stand. Although I always returned to the hardstand, I had to shut down several engines on the four-engined C-141 after landing when their low fuel pressure lights illuminated just before fuel starvation. This was not an approved operating procedure but when forced to hold overhead a saturated airport with time-sensitive cargo aboard (i.e., hospital patients, high explosives or hazardous waste), diversions weren't an option. You never want to get into a position where you're taking liberties with your flight planning factors. However, you also didn't want to flinch in the face of getting the mission done, so sometimes you pushed the edge of the envelope. I can't help but think that the crew aboard Flkight TK1951 from Istanbul might have cut the numbers too closely as they were approaching Schipol Airport on their 18 Feb landing. The Boeing 737-800 crashed 1.5 km short of the runway in a nose-up attitude. Most of the 135 passengers walked away from the aircraft. Some mentioned they were happy there was no fire. A lack of a fuel spill at the crash site contributed to that fortunate outcome. By now, investigators know the amount of fuel purchased by Turkish Airlines for the jet before it left Istanbul. Standard radar tracking will show the fuel burned en route. Adding required minimum fuel requirements for commercial passenger carriage produces a number that will tell investigators whether the captain was in the arrival sequence over the Netherlands with enough fuel reserves to divert to an alternate. If those numbers don't add up, a major interim accident finding will quickly percolate out to the professional pilot discussion boards.
BBC -- "Altimeter had a role in air crash" 4 March 2009.