February 4, 2011

Last week, NBAA welcomed a new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aviation Rulemaking Committee, established by FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, to advise FAA on the proposed phase-out of 100 low lead (100LL) aviation gasoline (avgas), the fuel that powers almost all 150,000 piston-engine aircraft in the U.S.

NBAA’s Washington staff will support the committee, which will also include representatives of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and the fuel industry.

“We’re committed to finding an acceptable answer to this challenge,” said Eli Cotti, NBAA Director, Technical Operations. “It’s a very complex problem, in part because aviation safety cannot be compromised.”

Concern over the future of avgas stems from the Clean Air Act of 1970, which over 40 years has achieved a 92-percent reduction in environmental lead, in turn dramatically reducing the number of children with lead-caused mental impairments. The Act also spurred development of 100LL avgas as an almost universal replacement of aviation octane grades 80/87, 91/96, 100 and 115/130.

A 2008 petition by the Friends of the Earth environmental group sparked EPA issuance of an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM), which asked for input from industry and other government agencies on a lead-free gasoline for aviation use. In response, NBAA and several other general aviation (GA) groups, along with the American Petroleum Institute, formed the GA Avgas Coalition to lead the search for a replacement fuel and ensure that Federal agencies understood the wide ranging impact on the GA industry of a 100LL phase- out.

“After 20 years of research, there still is no replacement fuel for 100LL that will satisfy the requirements of all reciprocating aircraft engines without special engine modifications and FAA certification,” said Cotti. “There have been more than 200 unleaded blends tested, with FAA full-scale engine tests on 45 of those. We’re just not there yet.”

Cotti added that the Environmental Protection Agency has assured NBAA and other GA groups that it would take no precipitous action to ban 100LL in the near future. “In fact, the EPA does not have authority to control aviation fuels,” said Margo Tsirigotis Oge, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, in a letter dated July 27, 2010. “Only the FAA has the authority to regulate which fuels aircraft may burn.”

As the newly formed FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee takes shape, there is favorable action elsewhere. The EPA has extended the public comment period for the avgas ANPRM, and congressional leaders have proposed $2 million for more research into a replacement fuel.

To learn more about the work being done by the GA community on avgas, review the NBAA press release “General Aviation Industry Prepares for an Unleaded Future.”