Grounding and Bonding Your Airplane

by Bob Martens on May 24

In a perfect world, anytime we have an aviation related question or concern, we simply call up our friends at the Federal Aviation Administration to help us out.

Well, we must be getting close, because that’s exactly how this issue worked itself out.

We received an excellent question from a pilot and I knew exactly where to go for the answer.

I called my ole buddy and former coworker Tony Janco who just happens to be one of the smartest guys I know.  And he works for the FAA as an Airworthiness Inspector.

Here’s the question and Tony’s answer:

Q: I was taught to ground the plane before fueling. Now I hear that you should bond the plane. Which is correct and what is the difference?

A: A simple explanation of bonding is that it is done to prevent you from being shocked/electrocuted when your left hand touches one metal component, and your right hand touches another metal component. By running a wire (bonding wire) from one metal component to another (fuel truck to aircraft), stray electricity (from a short for example) will equalize through the wire and one metal component (truck) will NOT have a greater voltage in it than another metal component (plane), hence no spark.

Grounding on the other hand is to give stray electrical current a place to go, other than through you. To some extent, the two work together with each other, sort of as backups for each other.

Static protection in the form of static cable reels should be used to bond aircraft to refueling vehicles, carts or cabinets to prevent a difference in their electrostatic potential.

In simple terms, the aircraft should be bonded to the fuel truck, and the fuel truck should be grounded to the ground post on the ramp.


Clearly it’s not cool to call the FAA with all our concerns but wouldn’t it be nice if there was more open dialogue?  We’ll talk more about that on another blog post

The point is that there are tremendous resources out in the aviation world that are untapped.  As pilots we need to get to know the professional mechanics that work on our planes.  Everyone benefits when effective communication takes place.  Get to know your mechanic!

Tony has been a fantastic resource for me over the years I have known him. There is no such thing as a dumb question.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky June 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm

As a privot pilot/fuel-er, I was taught to bond to something metal with no paint/damage to the surface of the aircraft. I am certified as a fuel-er and have never heard that we should not use the exhaust pipe as a place to ground. There are a few instances when the pilot specifically instructed otherwise due to the material of the exhaust; otherwise it is common practice.

Generally I look for a non-painted surface, sometimes a bolt on the wheel, or a tie down point, or somewhere where the paint has worn off of the metal to bond the cable before I fuel (Jet or Av gas).

Since I am certified, why was I not taught NEVER bond to the exhaust if this is so important? I know it has been awhile since my training, but I don’t recall one of the training videos that I watched mention a thing about it….just curious.

Larry Olson May 29, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I could make a STRONG argument for doing one’s own fueling. They you can control the safety, ground the plane correctly, and hopefully put in the right fuel. Yes, MOST line boys do not do it right.

At VERY LEAST be present during fueling.

candy sheeran May 28, 2010 at 9:51 pm

please do what brian said…

Martin May 28, 2010 at 6:46 pm

I’ve always connected the ground wire to the exhaust stack. Is it really such a bad place to connect?

candy sheeran (agii and commercial) May 28, 2010 at 12:20 pm

thanks brian…excellent info…now try to teach the young guys on the line…they dont listen to girls…im always telling them to not connect to the stack…

Brian Riis May 24, 2010 at 8:19 am

Remember when you bond the aircraft to choose a good grounding point. Some manufacturer’s have specific points where they recommend attaching the ground wire. I have seen re-fueling personnel and pilots choose some pretty poor points. Worst ones seen – propeller, exhaust stack, or some non-metallic point.
Pick a place like a towing lug or bolt that has a clear metal to metal path for the airframe.
As an extra pre-caution before you open the fuel cap, touch the edge of the fuel nozzle to the metal structure of the airplane, and while fueling keep the nozzle in direct contact with the metal around the tank cap.

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