6 Air Canada Flight 143

October 20, 2009

Boeing767On 23rd July 1983 Air Canada Flight 143, a Boeing 767 ran out of fuel at 41,000 feet (12,000m) altitude, about halfway through its flight from Montreal to Edmonton. The crew managed to glide the aircraft safely to an emergency landing at Gimli Industrial Park Airport, a former airbase at Manitoba. This was some challenge. No fuel means no engines. No engines means no electronics, no steerage, no navigation. An emergency propellor driven dynamo ( similar to that used to produce light on bikes) dropped down on an arm under the plane to produce basic power for steerage. Navigation had to be by sight or calculation of speed etc. That involved some maths, mathspigs. There were no fatalities.

The Maths Error: Oops again! Muddling units of volume!

The first error was that the fuel tank gauge wasn’t working. It was to be replaced in Edmonton. The second error was a maths error. The ground crew filled the tanks according to their records. The fuel requirements were assumed to be in litres but they had been recorded in gallons.quart(Pic Right : Quarter of a Gallon)

Here it is the metric Vs Imperial problem again. This incident was shown on Air Crash Investigation (or Mayday) Season 5, Episode 6.


  1. […] Mathspig has a 10-post series on the 10 Worst Mathematical Disasters. Start with #10 and work up from there; I had never heard about the one involving an Air Canada flight which ran out of fuel due to a unit conversion error. […]

  2. Wiley Post’s flight around the world was nearly scuttled by a similar fuel measurement error.

    In this case, it was when he refueled in Russia using a different ‘gallon’ standard. ‘US gallons’ were different than ‘Imperial gallons’.

    In the end, he had to dump fuel before he took off so that he had the proper weight to make the next leg of his journey.

    • Wow! That’s amazing! Here is Australia we are metric but we have to use everyone’s measurements. The one I miss is the 44 gallon(UK) drum. In the eighties my editor made me change it 199.5 litres. It just doesn’t sound the same. Thanks for your thoughts. Interesting addition to the discussion. Cheers Mathspig

  3. I think he was the best pilot he done fantastic job Seldom you can find such smart and professional pilot

    • I agree. It was the pilot skill that saved lives. Not the technology. Mathspig

  4. I think it was actually a little more complicated than that. The volume of fuel pumped into the plane’s fuel tanks had to be calculated according to its weight. Instead of converting the volume into pounds (as was the usual practice in Canada in the 1980s), the new aircraft measured the weight of the fuel in kilos. No one noticed the miscalculation, so the plane set off with about half the weight (and thus half the volume) of fuel necessary for the journey.

    • Thanks for your comment. I took the information from the TV show but they may have simplified the presentation. Cheers

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