December 28, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
With industry, universities, and government researchers hard at work seeking the next fuel for general aviation aircraft, 2011 began in an orderly fashion on the unleaded avgas front. February marked the chartering of a joint aviation rulemaking committee, on which AOPA serves. That panel was delegated by the FAA to define the issues and recommend the direction for resolving those issues. In Congress, GA Caucus members and supporters of that effort cautioned the FAA and Environmental Protection Agency against any hasty use of the federal rulemaking process to ban leaded avgas and force a solution that didn’t adequately serve the diverse piston fleet.
But the measured tone did not reach to all corners. In California, an environmental organization used the legal mechanism of a state law to sue aviation businesses who handle leaded fuel, making those companies susceptible to stiff financial penalties. The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) led an effort that challenged the suit, and urged the FAA and broadly, the Department of Transportation, to intervene in the interest of establishing federal jurisdiction over avgas policy. An attempt to enjoin the lawsuit failed on procedural issues, but the Oct. 19 ruling did not address the jurisdictional question.
The Sept.19 letter to the FAA and DOT’s counsel general from Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), John Thune (R-S.D.), and 25 co-signers that urged regulatory restraint in the face of external pressures such as “potential litigation” may have summarized the industry’s position-of-record on the avgas issue for the year, and moving forward into the future:
“Despite ongoing research and testing, there currently is no safe or affordable alternative to leaded avgas to meet the needs of the GA aircraft fleet and FAA standards that ensure their flight safety,” it said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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