Report: FAA testing, leadership key to avgas transition

June 26, 2012

Candidate fuels to replace leaded avgas could measure their progress against established milestones, go head-to-head with other fuels in a centralized FAA testing facility, and receive guidance from government and industry experts under a plan laid out in a recently released report.

The report of the Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee, a government-industry group of which AOPA is part, outlines the hurdles facing the industry’s transition to an unleaded fuel for piston aircraft and addresses them with detailed suggestions. A “fuel development roadmap,” centralized testing of candidate fuels, an established process for soliciting and selecting those fuels for testing, a centralized certification office to support unleaded fuel projects, and an industry-government initiative to implement the committee’s recommendations could facilitate the identification of potential replacement fuels in five years, and a subsequent transition that causes the least pain for owners of aircraft in the existing fleet.

However the FAA chooses to implement the committee’s recommendations, the program must address in some way the key issues and recommendations laid out in the report. In releasing the final report June 26, the FAA said it is considering the group’s recommendations and has already taken steps toward two of them.

The additive tetraethyl lead has long been used in aviation fuel to raise the octane to a level that prevents knock in high-power aircraft engines. No “drop in” unleaded replacement fuel is currently available that could meet the needs of the entire fleet, and no market forces will drive the industry to invest the significant expense required for approving and deploying a replacement fuel, the report explains. But petitions and litigation have put pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency to consider regulatory action to eliminate or reduce lead emissions from aircraft. The unleaded avgas transition committee set forth five primary and 14 additional recommendations to consider in a plan to develop and deploy an unleaded avgas.

A “fuel development roadmap” should identify key milestones in the avgas development process and the information needed to assess candidate fuels, the report recommends. Centralized testing at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center should generate standardized qualification and certification data, and eliminate the need for redundant testing; and a solicitation and selection process should be established to choose candidates for the testing program. In addition, the FAA should establish a centralized certification office with ample resources to support the effort. Tying the plan together is the recommendation that a collaborative industry-government initiative, the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative, implement the other recommendations “to facilitate the development and deployment of an unleaded AVGAS with the least impact on the existing piston-engine aircraft fleet.”

The rulemaking committee was formed at the urging of the General Aviation Avgas Coalition, which includes AOPA and associations representing other aspects of general aviation and the petroleum industry.