Liability raises its ugly head once again

I recently received a number of notes from people who asked the same two questions: Could aircraft engine manufacturers build engines that operate safely on autogas and autogas containing ethanol and, if so, why don’t they?


I recently received a number of notes from people who asked the same two questions: Could aircraft engine manufacturers build engines that operate safely on autogas and autogas containing ethanol and, if so, why don’t they?

The answer to the first part is yes. The answer to the second part is liability.

Airframe and engine manufacturers could build equipment that is compatible with autogas and ethanol-containing fuels. However, it probably would require changes in almost all fuel system components including tank bladders, fuel lines, pumps, carburetors, seals, etc. It also would require changes in the materials for valve seats and, possibly, other internal engine components.

Then all of these changes would need to be tested and certified for each individual model and new limitations or requirements set for each model. For example, if an aircraft was certified on ethanol-containing fuel, the range of the aircraft would need to be altered.

But that is not the whole problem. When an aircraft is certified, all of the components and consumable items used by the aircraft must be certified and/or specified. Then the manufacturer or supplier of each item must stand behind and warrant that the items they supply meet the specification for those items.

For a manufacturer to certify an aircraft for autofuel, it would first have to test its product for the entire array of auto fuels available. If FBOs were supplying all of the autogas, there would be some assurance that the fuel would be handled following accepted practices. But since many pilots would be hauling their own fuel, a manufacturer would need to anticipate most problems that could occur ? and the manufacturer would be legally responsible for all autogas meeting the requirements for its aircraft under all conditions.

Most pilots I know are very careful and follow safety practices to the letter. Unfortunately there are enough exceptions out there to make this a legal nightmare for any manufacturer with anything approaching deep pockets.

If you expand the expectation of an engine or airframe manufacturer approving autogas to include autogas containing ethanol, you expand the possible problems by a very large margin. I do not know of anyone with pockets deep enough to actually consider doing this.

We all want to be able to have legal recourse when a supplier sells us an off-spec product that causes a problem. However, the failure of people to take responsibility for their own mistakes, and instead choose to sue the supplier or manufacturer, has greatly injured the financial health of the general aviation community. The cost of frivolous lawsuits can be seen in many places. This is just one more.

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.

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