Avgas is the lifeblood of general aviation and must remain available while the industry develops a safe, affordable alternative, AOPA told members of the Senate General Aviation Caucus during a Nov. 21 briefing.
The briefing, which was hosted by caucus co-chairs Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), focused on “progress toward developing aviation gasoline alternatives” and included representatives of AOPA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, FAA, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“There’s uncertainty related to the future of avgas right now, and that’s affecting people’s decisions from purchasing aircraft, making upgrades, and developing new products,” said Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs, who was invited to provide an update at the briefing. “That’s why it’s vitally important that we ensure avgas remains available while the industry works to bring alternatives to market. The demise of our current fuel without a suitable replacement would shut down general aviation with negative consequences for safety and the economy.”
Hackman noted that three-quarters of the U.S. general aviation fleet—167,000 aircraft out of a total of 220,000—is certified to fly on leaded fuel. While some of those aircraft could operate safely on lower octane fuels, high-performance aircraft cannot and those high-performance aircraft make significant contributions to the GA economy.
“A portion of the fleet, including many high-performance piston aircraft, does a significant amount of the flying,” Hackman explained. “This portion of the fleet logs a high percentage of the GA hours flown and burns a significant majority of the fuel, much of it in business flying, flight training, law enforcement, medical transport, firefighting, wildlife monitoring, and agricultural operations.”
Although much remains to be done before one or more alternative fuels can be brought to market, significant progress is being made. Several companies have indicated they have high-octane fuels that could be suitable for general aviation. And the FAA is inviting candidate fuels to be part of the agency’s centralized testing program.
“The continued availability of funding for that testing program is critical, and we will be asking Congress to ensure that it’s part of the FAA’s budget,” Hackman said.
GAMA Vice President of Engineering and Maintenance Walter Desrosier also provided an update at the briefing. He noted that there has been a significant increase in activity by engine and airplane manufacturers in support of the evaluation and certification of unleaded fuels. That activity, he said, is important to ensuring continued investment in the development of one or more unleaded fuels that will minimize the impact on the general aviation fleet.
AOPA has worked closely with GAMA and other GA organizations, the petroleum industry, and the FAA to support the development of alternatives to leaded avgas, serving on the FAA’s Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee. That committee provided a series of recommendations for the transition, including the establishment of the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI).
AOPA is also part of PAFI, a government-industry group created to provide a path forward for the identification, evaluation, and fleetwide deployment of the most promising replacements for leaded fuel. The group is also charged with helping to ensure the goal of fleetwide deployment is achieved with minimal disruption to the GA industry and the greatest likelihood of marketplace success.
In his comments, Desrosier told caucus members that funding for the PAFI program must continue through 2018 because the program is essential to facilitating fleetwide certification approval for any new fuels—a critical element in minimizing the impact of the changeover.