Beware the “sound bite” solution

GUEST EDITORIAL By MICHAEL KRAFT, senior vice president and general manager, Lycoming Engines

I commend Janice Wood for taking on the avgas issue (“Preparing for the end of 100LL”) and reporting objectively the comments made at this year’s AOPA Aviation Summit in Tampa.

The past and present story of 100LL has technical, political, economic and historical facets that are difficult to explain in a single discussion, much less solve.

We often look for simple explanations and quick solutions to complex issues. However, taking this approach on the complex avgas issue may result in permanent economic damage to the general aviation industry. An in-depth industry-wide discussion is critical.

However, if I were to focus on any single aspect of this issue, it would be this: 94UL is a “five-second sound bite” solution. It sounds great. It seems simple. But the impact and costs to the end user community are immense.

To be blunt, if 94UL becomes the new avgas standard, the economic impact to approximately 25% of the existing fleet of aircraft will be in the billions of dollars — for those who can convert to de-rated horsepower engines. Even worse, some twin engine models will no longer be able to fly. And even worse than that, those affected will primarily be Part 135 operators — people who use their aircraft as business tools. These are the aircraft owners and operators that we as an industry use as the specific examples of providing essential services to the communities that they serve.

It’s true that 94UL is the easy route for the existing avgas production and distribution chain. It is also the easy route for engine manufacturers. Many of Lycoming’s engines have been approved to run on 91 octane unleaded fuel since 1995.

But an avgas solution that costs end users billions of dollars in equipment retrofits, lost revenues, and depreciated assets is not the solution. Engine and aircraft manufacturers might benefit from increased sales, but Lycoming is extremely concerned that the downside effect is not one from which general aviation will be able to recover. Equally important, grounding a significant portion of the general aviation fleet would have a ripple effect impacting owners, operators and the communities they serve.

Because of this immense economic impact, development of a 100 octane unleaded substitute aviation grade fuel is crucial. This alternative fuel does not necessarily need to be from crude oil sources, and it does not necessarily need to comply with the existing ASTM D910 avgas specifications. It needs to have a 100 MON performance rating without the addition of tetraethyl lead.

As Earl Lawrence, vice president of industry and regulatory affairs for the Experimental Aircraft Association, said in the Dec. 4 article, “Whatever change we make, it better be right.” I agree.

For several years now, Lycoming Engines has been sharing information on avgas with pilots, owners and operators. We have presented the complex story of aviation fuels and 100LL avgas at flying clubs, Oshkosh, Aero Friedrichshafen, and AOPA. Our goal is to help pilots, owners and operators make informed choices about the future of their aircraft, which is directly tied to the future of 100LL avgas. In return, we have listened to and learned from our customers, some of whom have significant expertise in the fuels area. This has been a positive first step in achieving the right solution.

I look forward to continued discussions with pilots, owners and operators as we identify and achieve the most efficient and effective solution to the avgas issue.

In the meantime, be wary of the five-second sound bite. Expect more.


  1. says

    I don’t believe that we need a 100LL replacement, — all we need is just an announcement that they are no longer going to produce it by a certain date, — but I wouldn’t count on that announcement ever taking place, and I wouldn’t count on a Swift type substitute any time soon, (if ever). If it were truly available, and did in fact sell for less money, then don’t you think it would be at our airports right now?.

    What I will count on is what I see happening right now, and that is that there are about a half dozen Diesel manufacturers that will be certified this year, with some already certified.

    The cost of converting is a no brainer, as the average fuel savings of any Diesel is over 30% in direct relation to a gas engine of equal HP.

    For example; If you fly a big TCM, or Lyc, and if you make it to a TBO of 2,000 hours, then you will have conservatively used about 33,000 gallons of 100LL, — (that’s if you even make it to TBO).

    But if you have a Diesel hanging out front, — your fuel savings alone, will be equal to, (or greater than), the cost of putting that new Diesel on your trusty steed, — and that does not include the savings in oil changes, spark plugs, mag work, etc..

    I hear that TCM has been quietly developing a powerful new 2 stroke lightweight Diesel, (not the one they built under a NASA grant), replacement for all existing high HP gas engines, and apparently is going to announce it any day now, and maybe even it’s certification too.

    The DeltaHawk 200 HP Diesel is already flying in a couple of Cirrus aircraft, courtesy of LoPresti, and certification is expected this year, and trust me, LoPresti, and DeltaHawk are going to become very busy.

    If the TCM Diesel is anything like the DeltaHawk, then it will be a far more reliable engine than any gas 4 stroke engine currently produced.

    If I were Lycoming, — and I didn’t have a Diesel about to come forth, then I would purchase one of the existing Diesel manufacturers working on certification, and bring them into the Aviation world ASAP. I would recommend Gemini, which has a great upgradeable engine design, and is currently working with Tecnam to power up it’s light twin.

  2. says

    91 octane unleaded fuel has been approved for many Lycoming engines not since 1995 but for ten years before that. Lycoming however is still so paranoid about liability that even today they don’t dare use the words “auto fuel”, hence the reference only to their own research from 1995 which hasn’t done a thing to help anyone. If Lycoming had really been listening to their customers they would have supported the use of automotive gasoline years ago and perhaps today we would have non-ethanol automotive gasoline available at airports, and more research accomplished that would have allowed many more airplanes to use it. That never happened because companies like Lycoming and Continental continue to insist that only “avgas” be used. The lack of support was critical. Thanks a lot Mr. Kraft.

    Todd L. Petersen
    Petersen Aviation, Inc.
    Minden, Nebraska

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