Avgas transition a slow, steady process

December 14, 2010

Slow and steady. That's the message from AOPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and engine manufacturers Teledyne and Lycoming at a forum on the future of avgas Nov. 11 at AOPA Aviation Summit.

Glenn Passavant of the EPA explained the reasons the EPA established an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) regarding general aviation lead emissions, which received more than 500 comments. The comment period ended in August. Passavant said the EPA wants to move in an orderly, fact-based process and only make a recommendation when it thinks there is a viable way forward. It is the FAA that would then be the agency that would have the obligation to take action.

Michael Kraft, senior vice president and general manager of Lycoming Engines, said that the first consideration for his company—an engine manufacturer—is safety.

"Changing fuel changes a key input,” Kraft said. “We must work logically through the process."

Teledyne President Rhett Ross agreed that the challenge of finding a replacement fuel is a safety issue. "You are changing a very important variable in a very complex system,” Ross said, later explaining, “We are not a fuel company. We can't start to do what we need to do until the fuel is known."

"Materials compatibility is the largest challenge," Kraft added. "But it is not one we see as unsolvable."

AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Rob Hackman, who participated in the forum, noted that “this will affect everyone in the industry.”

The GA industry currently faces two separate challenges regarding leaded avgas. In the long term, it faces the regulatory process set in motion by the ANPR, which has the potential to advance the elimination of lead from avgas. There is currently no deadline for removing lead from avgas and a coalition of general aviation and petroleum industry organizations is working to establish the process by which potential alternatives are vetted and will ultimately be selected.

The industry also faces a more pressing short-term local challenge in addressing a separate standard for airborne pollutants including lead, known as the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). In 2011, the EPA will release its list of areas within the United States that may not meet the standard for lead. Some of these areas, based on a number of factors including total population, will likely include some general aviation airports. States will then be required to submit implementation plans for these areas and have until 2017 to reduce lead emissions in order to come into compliance with the standards. Ongoing work to create and approve a very-low-lead (VLL) avgas formulation is an interim step which may be part of the solution to that short-term challenge. The VLL is intended to be a “drop-in,” meaning it will not have any impact on the aircraft performance or require any modifications or changes to the aircraft itself.