Own a certified airplane? Just say no to ethanol

In my Nov. 23 column, “”What effect does ethanol have on airplanes?””, I tried to answer the question of what to do if you end up accidentally getting some auto gas that contains ethanol in your airplane. I had intended this to be information for people who tried to use non-ethanol containing auto gas, but unintentionally got fuel with ethanol.


In my Nov. 23 column, “”What effect does ethanol have on airplanes?””, I tried to answer the question of what to do if you end up accidentally getting some auto gas that contains ethanol in your airplane. I had intended this to be information for people who tried to use non-ethanol containing auto gas, but unintentionally got fuel with ethanol.

However, I received several notes from people who indicated that if the only problem with ethanol fuel was rubber compatibility with the fuel system, then they thought that their systems should work with ethanol-containing fuels, since they had clean metal fuel tanks and had replaced the fuel lines with new automotive lines. Now I know there are a few experimental aircraft that have been modified to run on ethanol but if you have a certified aircraft, or one that has not been “”properly modified,”” fuels containing ethanol should never knowingly be used in your airplane ? period.

If you have questions about this, look up FAA Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin CE-07-06 dated Oct. 27, 2006. It goes into many of the problems you can expect from using ethanol-containing fuels in an aircraft, including vapor lock, phase separation and reduced energy content. There also is concern that an ethanol-containing fuel will clean up a dirty fuel system, blocking filters among other things. Lastly, the effects of the long-term use of fuels containing ethanol on engine wear, and the corrosion of aluminum and other soft metal fuel system components, is unknown at this time.

So I want to make this very clear: If you accidentally get a tank or two of fuel containing ethanol in your aircraft, you may be able to “”get away with it”” if you monitor it carefully and take precautions as outlined in the previous column; but if you think you can use fuel containing ethanol if and when you please, you may be headed for serious problems.

Please do not take this as one of those casual problems that you really do not have to worry about. It is a very serious concern that can cause you very serious problems.

MORE TO WORRY ABOUT…

In my Aug. 10 column (“”Tester ensures autofuel is alcohol free””), I wrote that Vermont and New Hampshire, along with several other states, were considering using only auto fuels with ethanol. I recently received a note from Dick Lindell, who wrote that only southern New Hampshire is using ethanol-containing fuels and that auto fuels in Vermont and northern New Hampshire may or may not contain ethanol.

The bottom line is that it is very important to buy or build an alcohol fuel tester and use it on every fuel purchase. You should know that many fuel suppliers may not know if their auto fuel contains ethanol. Even if your fuel supplier and other sources claim that the auto fuel you are buying contains no ethanol, it can still be cross contaminated with an ethanol containing fuel.

Remember, what you don’t know can hurt you.

Ben Visser is an aviation fuels and lubricants expert who spent 33 years with Shell Oil. He has been a private pilot since 1985. You can contact him at Visser@GeneralAviationNews.com.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *