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AOPA files complaint to reverse dangerous California county fuel ban

AOPA on October 14 filed a formal complaint with the FAA suggesting the decision by officials in Santa Clara County, California, to prohibit the sale of higher-octane fuel causes a safety issue for pilots and violates federal rules and regulations.

Reid-Hillview of Santa Clara County Airport. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Pilots and aviation businesses in the region joined AOPA in filing the complaint because they have been negatively impacted by the county’s decision to prohibit the sale of 100LL fuel at Reid-Hillview of Santa Clara County Airport and San Martin Airport as of January 1, 2022.

The complaint, commonly referred to as a Part 16, can be filed by parties who are directly and substantially affected by an airport owner or operator’s alleged noncompliance with several requirements that the airport agreed to as a condition of receiving and using federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant funds. After applying for and receiving millions of dollars in federal project funding, Santa Clara County agreed to these federal grant assurances, which requires Reid-Hillview to operate as a safe airport through 2031.

“We all want lead out of aviation fuel, and the entire industry, in cooperation with the FAA, is working on a safe and smart transition to an unleaded future, which we believe will be no later than 2030 if not sooner,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “Unfortunately, Santa Clara County officials have decided to put politics ahead of safety, and we call on the FAA to enforce the rules on the books to ensure pilots have access to the fuel their aircraft require in order to fly safely.”

The filing was made on behalf of transient and tenant users of Reid-Hillview and San Martin airports who are unable to access 100LL for retail purchase or self-fueling. FAA records for Santa Clara airports indicate a significant number of general aviation operations for the most recently reported 12-month period: 209,314 at Reid-Hillview and 33,166 at San Martin.

Meanwhile, significant progress is being made toward the stated goal of reaching a lead-free solution no later than 2030. The FAA recently approved a 100-octane unleaded fuel developed by General Aviation Modifications Inc., of Ada, Oklahoma, for nearly all GA piston aircraft engines and airframes. Steps are now being taken by GAMI to move this fuel through the commercialization process.

In addition, Swift Fuels, an Indiana-based company, is making significant progress on its 100-octane unleaded fuel solution and anticipates FAA approval in 2023. Swift Fuels has already received approval for its 94UL fuel, which is in use today for aircraft engines that can fly on this lower-octane fuel. Progress is also being made on potential unleaded fuel replacements currently being evaluated by the FAA to include fuels produced by Afton Chemical/Phillips 66 and Lyondell/VP Racing.

The Part 16 filing follows an informal Part 13 complaint, which prompted the FAA to investigate multiple potential violations of grant assurances by Santa Clara County.

With Santa Clara County’s unwillingness to ensure safety for pilots and comply with federal rules, a formal Part 16 complaint became necessary.

Alyssa J. Miller
Eric Blinderman
Senior Director of Communications
Eric Blinderman is AOPA’s Senior Director of Communications. Eric joined AOPA in 2020 after several years at leading marketing/communications agencies in New York and is looking forward to putting his newly minted private pilot certificate to work.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, Avgas

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