We’re all worried about terrorist threats against airlines, but most of us are unaware of the dangerous microbes that live in aviation fuel that can mess up the planes’ instruments, cause fuel leaks, and even eat through the wings if undetected. Now scientists have developed a test that lets non-scientists check oils, fuels and water for “microbial fouling, spoilage and corrosion” caused by bacteria, yeasts and molds. Airlines simply add a sample of the fuel to a bottle of gel, and get results overnight.

“Microbes in jet fuel are an increasing problem for airlines operating aircraft in tropical areas,? says ECHA Microbiology chief Ted Hill. “I’ve seen aircraft where you can see holes in the wings drilled out by these microbes. They mess up the fuel gauges, too, so that sometimes pilots think they’ve got gas when they’re actually almost running on empty.”And we thought our biggest flight problems were shoe bombers and nail scissors!

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