More evidence of fuel foolishness in regional airlines in Australia has been released this morning in a final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to an incident in which a small turboprop with 16 passengers on board almost ran dry mid flight in Queensland.

The flight by Sunshine Express was on its way from Thangool to Brisbane on September 23, 2005, when it made a single engine emergency landing at Bundaberg. There was almost no fuel left in the tank feeding the engine that had stopped and the other engine had fuel for about 10 minutes remaining.

The ATSB report finds that the airline was incapable of verifying the accuracy of its fuel loads, among other things. It says:

The fuel quantity management procedures and practices within the company did not ensure validation of the aircraft’s fuel quantity indicator reading. There was also no system in place to track the aircraft’s fuel status during and after maintenance.

Sunshine Express has now moved from scheduled to charter flights. The report adds to concerns that CASA is failing to monitor and enforce even the most fundamental safety standards in Australian carriers.

The ATSB is currently investigating an unprecedented series of incidents or apparent stuff-ups by scheduled airlines in the past year in Australia. It has already released a deeply troubling preliminary report into a fuel starvation incident involving a Skippers Aviation turbo-prop at the Jundee mine in WA in June, in which it alludes to several other incidents, probably including this one, of faulty fuel management in small carriers.

More recently it issued a preliminary report into an incident involving a Qantas 737 in which the crew departed from Perth to Sydney without activating access to the central fuel tank vital for completing its flight. That jet almost became a glider above Swan Hill, ironically, the gliding capital of Australia.

And it is also investigating a further fuel incident which forced a Virgin Blue 737 to land unexpectedly at Rockhampton on a flight between Brisbane and Hamilton Island.