Plane at airport

The generation of static electricity in the handling of aviation fuel is potentially a serious safety risk.

This issue increasingly came to the fore as aviation fuel handling systems became more advanced in the 1950s and 1960s, with higher fuel flow rates and microfiltration.

This increased the potential for an electrostatic charge to be produced and allowed to accumulate within an aircraft fuel tank. This in turn, could give rise to high energy spark discharges, with obvious catastrophic consequences.

Shell Aviation began research into a solution in the 1950s in collaboration with partners in the aviation and petroleum industries. The investigations focused on a fuel additive that raised the conductivity of the fuel to a level where accumulations of electrostatic charge were prevented.

A decade long development and testing programme of Shell’s solution, Antistatic Additive ASA-3, saw engine, aircraft makers and others satisfied that it had no untoward side effects on their equipment.

Operational testing was the final step, with the Canadian authorities, in collaboration with the Royal Canadian Air Force, beginning this stage in 1962. The RCAF had attributed several incidents with its aircraft to ignition by static electricity and was urgently in need of a solution. ASA-3 proved effective and in 1964 its use in aviation turbine fuel became mandatory in Canada. Over the coming years, use of ASA-3 became standard across the world, helping to improve aviation safety.

Shell continues to work to improve the safety of aircraft refuelling today, playing a role on a range of bodies such as The Joint Inspection Group and the Energy Institute, which set the standards for operational safety across the world.

Sources:

Shell Aviation News, 1966, number 340, p. 14-21.
Shell historical archives.

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