What does the FAA’s avgas committee mean for pilots?

February 15, 2011

The FAA has stepped up to take a leadership role in the piston fleet’s transition toward an unleaded aviation gasoline, recently chartering an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) to advise the agency on the process. The General Aviation Avgas Coalition requested such a group, which will be composed of representatives from the piston-powered aviation industry and various offices in the FAA. The committee will be managed by senior officials in the FAA's Engine and propeller Directorate and act solely in an advisory capacity.

The ARC will be a joint government/industry committee tasked with identifying key issues relating to, and providing recommendations for, the development and deployment of an unleaded avgas. Its members will consider areas of concern that include aircraft and engine performance requirements; composition, airworthiness, and environmental impacts; production and distribution infrastructure; costs and economic issues; and how to communicate with the diverse population of avgas users.

So, what does this mean in real terms to GA pilots?

It means that the FAA, EPA, and industry are all committed to a measured pace that ensures a stable supply of 100LL while the agencies and aviation and petroleum stakeholders identify the process by which a high-octane unleaded aviation fuel standard will be approved for use in aircraft and identify tasks necessary to support a transition to an unleaded avgas.

Recent articles in ePilot Special Report: Getting the Lead Out have described the process of both the EPA and FAA having to collaborate on a complicated regulatory and technical approach to unleaded avgas. The shorthand: The EPA regulates what comes out of the tail pipe while the FAA, through airframe and engine certification, regulates what goes in the fill pipe.

Before the ARC, the FAA had been active on the unleaded avgas issue, but only at a “tactical” level--testing and reviewing new fuel technologies and engines. But with the chartering of the ARC, the FAA is taking the first institutional and “strategic” step toward an unleaded avgas solution.

According to Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs and liaison to the GA Avgas Coalition, “While the move toward an unleaded aviation fuel has been spurred by an EPA action, it is the FAA that must approve new fuels through aircraft and engine certification, ensuring they provide adequate safety. The Avgas Transition rulemaking committee is a vital early step in the journey toward an unleaded future. Its work will provide the information needed for an orderly transition.”

The committee is tasked with several priorities:

  • Investigate, prioritize, and summarize the current issues relating to the transition to an unleaded avgas;
  • Consider numerous factors relating to unleaded avgas when performing this activity;
  • Identify the key issues and recommend the tasks necessary to investigate and resolve these issues;
  • Upon completion of this study, provide recommendations for collaborative industry-government initiatives to facilitate the development and deployment of an unleaded avgas with the least impact on the existing piston-engine aircraft fleet;
  • Provide reports with written recommendations to the Director of the Aircraft Certification Service, as appropriate.