When I fill my tank at a gas station, I can see fuel vapor coming out of the tank.

I imagine the space above the aircraft tank has fuel vapor mixing with air (at lower oxygen than normal thanks to the inerting system). During refueling, the fuel will replace the space used by this fuel-air mixture and force the mixture out of the tank. If unmanaged, this is a big fuel source and fire hazard.

How is this mixture managed in order to minimize risk of fire or explosion?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Nice question, never thought about it. I learnt something. $\endgroup$ May 16, 2015 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ In CA at ye auto gas stations nozzles are required to have some kind of fume vacuum hood system for this reason i presume. Does that tech get used on avgas nozzles or anything? $\endgroup$
    – Weaver
    Aug 19, 2017 at 21:53

1 Answer 1


Large airplanes are pressure refuelled so vapor escaping through the fuel port is not an issue as it is in smaller airplanes. You are correct, however, that the fuel/air mixture existing in the tank will be displaced by the incoming fuel. The wings will have vents installed that will allow the air mixture in the tank to escape (and fuel in the case of over fuelling or excess expansion of the fuel after it is loaded).

The fire risk is minimized in three ways I can think of:

  • The airplane is grounded to the fuel truck, minimizing the risk of ignition via sparking.
  • The wing vents have flame arrestors so that if the air mixture leaving the wing did ignite, the flame would not make it into the tank.
  • Atmospheric dispersion -- once the air mixture is out of the tank it will become more dilute with time.

In the cases there is more than vapor released, e.g. liquid fuel is expelled, these spills will be absorbed to minimize fire risk. In the ultimate case of fire the fuel truck has fire extinguishers and there is a fire station on the airport that can apply foam and water as needed.

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    $\begingroup$ and of course large open spaces like airport ramps are typically windy, speeding up dispersal quite a bit. Hence the rules to not refuel inside hangars, but tow the aircraft outside... $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    May 17, 2015 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ Jet fuel is more like diesel too $\endgroup$
    – user9394
    Aug 19, 2017 at 19:44

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