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Ethanol threatens auto fuel supply for some pilotsEthanol threatens auto fuel supply for some pilots

Ethanol threatens auto fuel supply for some pilots

By AOPA ePublishing staff

Cost of flying

The top concern among AOPA members is the cost of flying. And the increasing cost of avgas and the limited amount of auto fuel are not helping. To assist AOPA members in finding the best avgas prices around, the association offers fuel prices in AOPA’s Airport Directory Online. Search by a radius of a particular airport, and the fuel prices at those airports will appear with the facility’s information. For tips on conserving fuel, see Peter A. Bedell’s September 2006 AOPA Pilot article, “ Facing Down Fuel Costs.”

If you purchase auto fuel for your aircraft off the airport, make sure you test it for ethanol before you put it in your airplane.

With the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandating petroleum companies to produce 9 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2008 (nearly double that required in 2007), ethanol-blended automobile gasoline is becoming more prevalent around the country. And because pumps serving the blended fuel may not be labeled, you won’t know if the fuel has ethanol unless you test it.

AOPA advocacy

While AOPA has successfully prevented ethanol from being blended with avgas, there are limits to what the general aviation industry can do to prevent auto gasoline from being blended.

In a handful of states, the association has been able to exclude premium gasoline from ethanol-blending requirements being passed by the state legislatures. However, the legislation does not ban premium gasoline from being blended.

Increased use of ethanol

With the mandate for petroleum companies to increase the amount of renewable fuel incorporated in gasoline, more premium-grade fuel will be blended. But that’s not the only factor increasing the use of ethanol.

Petroleum companies are replacing MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether), the most common oxygenate, with ethanol to address environmental concerns surrounding MTBE. While this could directly impact pilots who live in areas of the country that require oxygenated or reformulated gasoline, it could still affect those outside the area. It all depends on the companies supplying the fuel.

Ethanol-blended fuel could not only reduce an aircraft’s range and performance, but it also deteriorates seals in aircraft engines, harms fuel bladders and hoses, and attracts water, which promotes rust that can damage cylinders and pistons. It can even lead to problems in electric fuel pumps and cause inaccurate indications on fuel gauges, according to studies by the FAA.

April 29, 2008

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