AOPA: Court decision aids safe transition to unleaded avgas

March 28, 2013

A U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruling has freed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from having to make an accelerated endangerment finding on emissions from general aviation aircraft. This ruling will help to ensure that efforts to find an unleaded replacement fuel will continue in a manner that will guarantee aviation safety.

On March 27 the court ruled that the EPA has discretion to make endangerment findings under an important Clean Air Act provision, but cannot be forced to do so as Friends of the Earth had hoped. The EPA has already begun the endangerment process and will continue its efforts on a schedule driven by facts and policy, hopefully not by more lawsuits.

“AOPA and the general aviation community long ago publicly recognized the need to find a safe, acceptable alternative to leaded avgas,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “The entire case proved to be an unnecessary diversion in the ongoing efforts to move general aviation to an unleaded fuel. We all know that the solution to an avgas alternative won’t be found in a courtroom.”

The Friends of the Earth originally filed its lawsuit against the EPA over piston aircraft’s use of leaded avgas on March 12, 2012. The lawsuit alleged that the EPA unreasonably delayed responding to a 2006 petition asking it to make an “endangerment” finding and propose emissions standards for lead emissions from aircraft.

In response to the petition, the EPA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in April 2010, acknowledging the need to collect more information about the issue and asking a series of questions.

But members of the GA Avgas Coalition asserted that Friends of the Earth was not taking into consideration all the work being done to come to a long-term solution. Coalition members include AOPA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the National Air Transportation Association, the National Business Aviation Association, and the Experimental Aircraft Association.

FAA, industry progress on unleaded fuel

The Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee, a government-industry group formed in 2011 that included AOPA, released a report on June 26, 2012 that outlined the hurdles facing the industry’s transition to an unleaded fuel for piston aircraft and addressed 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, and a subsequent transition that causes the least pain for owners of aircraft in the existing fleet. The FAA and GA industry are continuing to work together on implementing the report’s recommendations to evaluate fuel alternatives and to ultimately transition the existing fleet to an unleaded fuel.

To help facilitate progress in those and other areas, the FAA created a new Fuels Program Office in September 2012 in response to a letter from the GA Avgas Coalition, which had urged funding an unleaded avgas program. The office is responsible for “providing technical expertise and strategic direction in the planning, management, and coordination of activities related to aviation fuels.”

AOPA will continue to work with the industry and government agencies to ensure a smooth transition to unleaded avgas.