A coalition of aviation alphabet groups and petroleum industry associations is striving to meet the challenges created for general aviation by recent government decisions to phase out 100 low-lead avgas. Elimination of 100LL was brought about by a petition from the Friends of the Earth to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006. This led to the Clean Air Act, which put 100LL on the death list to meet national air quality standards. In response to this, in April the EPA issued an advance notice of proposed rule to stop production and use of 100LL, requesting comments by Aug. 27. A final notice of rule making is expected in 12 to 24 months.
About 30% of high performance aircraft consume roughly 70% of the avgas, industry experts speculate. Using a fuel other than 100LL would allow most to operate, but would affect performance of the aircraft. No replacement fuel is currently available. Without a viable transition, general aviation flying could face severe problems. Recognizing the inevitability of the elimination of 100LL, the coalition is putting together plans and programs to make the transition as easy and inexpensive as possible. One factor making the transition urgent is the fuel availability after a final rule is issued. Avgas represents only 0.1% of petroleum. Fighting the elimination instead of striving for an acceptable alternate fuel could bring a risk of restrictions on general aviation operations and support of general aviation airports.
Some of the challenges the coalition faces include the fact that each piston aircraft is designed and certified to a certain fuel; that 100 octane is needed for detonation; and future unleaded specifications are not known. To resolve the problem, the coalition is working proactively to suggest to the EPA and FAA regulations that meet the needs of general aviation and comply with environmental requirements. Criteria for the new fuel, the coalition says, has these basic goals: Fuel safety and performance, aircraft safety and performance, environmental and health issues, fuel production and distribution, and cost impact. The first step is to request an extension of the time for submitting comments to the EPA. Next will be to make a comprehensive study of the general aviation fleet
The coalition is working on a four-step plan: Further develop the public/private relationship, develop unleaded avgas specifications, develop new production aircraft for unleaded fuel and, after that, EPA and FAA mandates for transition.
The working group is being kept to what leaders see as a manageable size, but others are brought in as needed. The core group is: the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, American Petroleum Institute, and National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.