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.