Senators urge FAA, EPA restraint on leaded-avgas rules

September 22, 2011

A letter from a group of senators to the administrators of the FAA and the Environmental Protection Agency urges the agencies not to use the rulemaking process to force the elimination of lead from aviation fuel before a suitable replacement is found.

Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), John Thune (R-S.D.), and 25 co-signers stressed the importance of the agencies working with the aviation sector and congressional General Aviation Caucus members in developing the fuel to replace leaded avgas.

“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,” they wrote.

The letter explained that finding the proper replacement fuel was a critical safety issue as well as a potential cost burden for the GA industry, which “contributes over $150 billion annually to the national economy and supports approximately 1.2 million American jobs.”

“We applaud Senators Begich and Thune for taking the lead on this very important issue, and we appreciate the support of everyone who signed on,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs.

The EPA, facing possible legal action by an environmental group, published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on lead emissions from piston-aircraft engines in April 2010. The EPA granted an extension requested by AOPA and other organizations in June 2010. AOPA has supported public and private fuel research, and has described the effort to develop and test an unleaded avgas as a marathon, not a sprint.

AOPA and other associations also have supported requests to include research funds in the FAA’s fiscal 2012 budget, calling the agency’s role a critical part of the transition to an unleaded aviation fuel.

“General Aviation greatly contributes to South Dakota's economic success through the health care, tourism, and agriculture industries, among others,” said Thune. “The EPA needs to work with the FAA to find a viable alternative fuel to leaded avgas before the agency bans the fuel altogether.”

“In Alaska, banning avgas wouldn't just ground general aviation aircraft, it would have a major impact on daily life in many rural Alaska communities disrupting commerce and costing Alaska jobs,” said Begich. “The EPA needs to hit the drawing board and produce a new plan that works with the FAA to phase in an alternative fuel for general aviation aircraft without threatening rural Alaska or Alaska jobs.”

The letter reiterated to the agencies that requiring aircraft to use a fuel that did not provide the safety and performance of 100LL would turn most single, twin-engine, and high-performance airplanes into non-airworthy aircraft.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.