November 14, 2012

A California lawmaker has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to encourage expanded use of unleaded fuels in general aviation aircraft.

In a recent letter to FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA-30) noted that while the agency has determined a timetable to find an alternative to 100 low-lead aviation gasoline, little has been done to encourage use of existing unleaded fuels in the interim.

“For too long general aviation gasoline, also known as ‘avgas,’ has been exempt from the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules that eliminated lead from automotive fuel to protect public health and the environment,” Waxman wrote in the Oct. 23 letter. “It is essential for the FAA to develop and implement, in the near term, measures to facilitate the use of currently available unleaded fuel in general aviation.”

Review the letter, (1MB, PDF ).

There is little argument about the need for a suitable 100LL replacement. In addition to environmental concerns, decreased refining and production capability for the specialized fuel has already compromised the continued use of 100LL.

Following years of study and discussion about the issue, in July 2012 the FAA published the final report from the Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee (UAT ARC). The committee, which included representatives from general aviation manufacturers and operators, determined no “drop-in” unleaded replacement fuel for the existing fleet of aircraft is currently available, and that alternative fuels required significant assessment to ensure safety.

In September, the FAA established the Fuels Program Office with the specific mission to facilitate a fleet-wide unleaded alternative to 100LL by 2018.

NBAA Chief Operating Officer Steve Brown said the industry must be cautious in moving toward other alternatives. “We believe the experts in the UAT ARC did a good job with examining the timeline and the possible alternatives, and that they came up with very sensible recommendations,” he said. “We are committed to working with members of Congress to expedite the transition outlined by the ARC.”

While supportive of the agency’s work toward an alternative, Waxman noted that the UAT ARC report “[did] not identify any efforts to reduce the use of leaded fuel before such a replacement fuel becomes available, even though, according to the report, it may be 11 years or more before the new fuel will be phased in.” The congressman also cited one study that found “over 80 percent of piston aircraft now in operation” have received Supplemental Type Certificate approval permitting use of automobile gasoline.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) also supports the current timetable. “We continue to be very supportive of the FAA’s program to facilitate the development and deployment of an unleaded avgas,” said Walter Desrosier, GAMA vice president – engineering & maintenance. “GAMA also continues to work with Congress to ensure adequate funding for FAA’s unleaded avgas activities in order to facilitate a transition in a timely manner.”