November 1, 2012
By Benét J. Wilson
The FAA, industry, and the members of the General Aviation Avgas Coalition continue efforts to work on a permanent solution to eventually replace 100 low-lead gasoline for GA aircraft that will meet the needs of the existing fleet.
Nationwide, average concentrations of lead in the air have dropped nearly 94 percent between 1980 and 2007 due to the Clean Air Act, which resulted in the removal of lead from automotive gasoline and other manufacturing processes. Since then, the GA industry has also cut the amount of lead additive per gallon of fuel by approximately half, resulting in the current avgas specification.
The GA industry has been actively involved in developing a plan to transition to a new, unleaded avgas for piston-engine airplanes through the implementation of the FAA’s Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee (UAT-ARC) recommendations. Currently, there are no high-octane unleaded fuels that are approved by the FAA for the entire GA fleet. Lower octane fuels, including auto fuel, are options for part of the GA fleet and have been approved by the FAA.
While lower octane fuels may be useable for portions of the fleet, they are not viable replacements for the portion that needs high-octane fuel and utilizes the largest amount of fuel. Factors surrounding the availability of auto fuel include finding a suitable supply (without ethanol), determining market size at any given airport, and if it is commercially viable at specific locations to support additional tanks and pumps if needed.
Fuel providers Ada, Okla.-based General Aviation Modifications, Inc. (GAMI) and West Lafayette, Ind.-based Swift Enterprises provided updates at the AOPA Aviation Summit in October and reported they were making good progress in developing a replacement for 100LL avgas.
Meanwhile, the FAA established the Fuels Program Office in September to help meet its goal of identifying an unleaded fuel available for the GA fleet by 2018. This action was in response to a letter from the aviation industry members of the coalition. It is seen as the next important step in establishing an unleaded avgas transition program that will evaluate the viability of candidate fuels and generate the data needed for fleet-wide aircraft certification and development of a commercial fuel specification.
According to the associations' letter, “The FAA's direct involvement and participation in this process is critical to ensuring a fleet-wide transition to an unleaded avgas that will maintain consumer confidence and ensure the least impact on the existing fleet. The establishment of the new Fuels Program Office will ensure an efficient use of both government and industry resources and will provide a more comprehensive pathway and timeline to an unleaded fuel.”
“The FAA recognizes the importance of introducing an unleaded avgas that can be safely used by the piston-powered fleet, and is collaborating with industry to develop the best possible alternative to lead-containing avgas,” the agency said in a statement.
AOPA is very supportive of the FAA’s direct involvement and participation in this process, which will oversee the consistent application of regulations and policy in fuels certification projects, and will centralize expertise for fuels certification programs. To ensure success, the FAA will continue to work with key stakeholders in the aircraft and engine industries, petroleum industries, government agencies, and airport communities in finalizing the transition plan.
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