Go ahead and fly

Michael Kraft is senior vice president and general manager of Lycoming Engines.

By MICHAEL J. KRAFT, Guest Editorial

Lycoming started 2010 with the objective of raising awareness of the issues surrounding a transition from 100LL to an unleaded alternate. As 2010 rolled out through Aero Friedrichshafen, Sun ‘n Fun and AirVenture, the news stories, convention presentations, blog posts, and Internet chat forums created a sense that this issue may not have a happy ending. Many people became nervous and, worse yet, started thinking that maybe they should fly less, hold off on that overhaul, or stay away from buying that aircraft they have had their eye on.

Lycoming will take some of the heat for the negative reaction. We hoped that in our treatment of the subject, the industry — for the sake of the continued viability of the legacy and current production fleet, as well as piston aviation flight safety — would coalesce behind finding an equivalent unleaded alternate to 100LL. What we did not anticipate was that the information in our presentations and in the media might send the message that this problem is too complex to solve.

The fact is, while the problem has many moving parts, it is not too complex and there is ample evidence that the industry is putting the pieces of the solution in place. Yes, there remains a lot to do. Yes, we could improve on our efficiency of getting those things done.

I’d like to tell you about some of the positive developments in the hope that you get the same confidence Lycoming has that your aviation investment will survive the transition to an unleaded 100LL equivalent fuel.

The Funding Piece: FAA Funding for Alternative Fuels Research

The U.S. House and Senate have passed bills funding the Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2011. The House version includes $2 million to fund NextGen alternative fuels for general aviation, a budget line item dedicated to researching and testing “new unleaded fuels and piston engine modifications to seek a safe alternative to the currently utilized leaded aviation gasoline.” Reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill is the next step in making funding a reality. This line item appeared because of the efforts of the Avgas Coalition, no doubt aided by the support of the General Aviation Caucus. It is not just positive news about fuels progress, but positive news about political progress as well.

The Leadership Piece: FAA Makes Case for Multi-year Funding

At this summer’s AirVenture, Lycoming recommended an industry action plan that included establishing “FAA Funding and Mandate for Action.” The $2 million in funding for FY2011 appears to be on its way. The FAA has already taken further steps by detailing a budget for future research and certification and initiating a revision to an outdated Advisory Circular 20-24 policy. FAA Certification & Standards and the William J. Hughes Technical Center are on board. The FAA will continue to look, however, for leadership from the industry.

The Development Piece, Part 1: Swift Fuel Test Completed by FAA

In August, the FAA issued its report on the durability testing of a Lycoming IO-540-K, an engine designed to the limit of 100LL anti-knock properties, using Swift Fuel. The results were quite positive — not entirely perfect — but very close and in no way indicating an engineering dead-end requiring a new “recipe” for the fuel. Swift had already met the anti-knock margins required by the IO-540-K test standard and this testing provides good news on the overall suitability of the Swift solution..

The Development Piece, Part 2: GAMI G100UL Fuel Testing Continues

General Aviation Modifications Inc. (GAMI) continues to make progress on both the test stand and in flight using its unleaded aviation fuel G100UL. GAMI’s approach to its fuel is different than Swift’s, proving that there will be at least two ways to “skin the cat” in finding a 100LL unleaded replacement.

The “Go Ahead and Fly” Piece: 100 VLL Stepping Stone to Unleaded

The ASTM Coordinating Research Council and the FAA’s Technical Center are making plans to evaluate a 100 octane “very low lead” fuel (100VLL). The intent is for 100 VLL to be a drop-in fuel requiring no engine or airframe changes and causing no reduction in aircraft performance. This fuel would immediately reduce airborne lead emissions, satisfying an immediate goal of the Environmental Protection Agency, while providing the industry a stepping stone to its unleaded future.

The “Can I Afford It” Piece: Unleaded Avgas Production Cost

Based on the data that has been presented to Lycoming, both Swift and GAMI fuels can be well within range of current 100LL production costs. 91UL would cost about the same as 100LL. 94UL would cost more than 100LL. In the end, the unleaded replacement fuel price to pilots will be set by demand and taxes.

The Demand Piece: What You Can Do to Help

A diverse set of users formed into groups in unprecedented fashion and spoke up at AirVenture. The $2M appropriation for FY2011 still requires U.S. Senate approval. FY2012 and beyond needs to be funded. Lycoming does not vote, you do. We need you to continue to make your US representatives and senators aware of your concerns.

The industry has come a long way this year. Work remains to be done, but this problem is not too complex to solve. Edison’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration equation still applies.

Lycoming recently hosted a factory tour for a Cessna 182 owner. He purchased a Lycoming engine and was bringing his core back to the factory. He knew about the news reports and was well aware of the need to remove lead from avgas, but he was upbeat about making the investment in another engine. He told us he was confident he and his wife would get lots of use from the engine before a change to unleaded fuel and there was no evidence he was not going to be able to keep flying after that.

Lycoming thinks he’s right.


  1. Neil Nederfield says

    I’d like to express my deepest Thanks to Lycoming for taking this positive “Can Do” attitude” and all their efforts in research and in educating the flying public on what’s happening with the issue of No Lead Fuel.

    Over the past few years I,ve heard many of my customers express their concerns about avgas going away, some even chose to sell their aircraft while, in their minds, it still had some value.

    I hope this news reassures pilots and aircraft owners that GA Airplanes will be around for a long time.

    Thanks Again to Lycoming
    Neil Nederfield
    C&W Aero services

  2. Dennis Reiley says

    As long as the aircraft industry insists on having their own aviation fuel instead of using standard mogas they will continue to pay unnecessary fuel costs.

    When they finally wakeup and convert to mogas they will pay standard automotive prices less average road use taxes of over .47 cents per gallon, aviation fuel taxes of approx 19 cents (24 cents) if a proposed tax increase goes through will be added.

    The total will be far less then what GA is paying now and less then what we pay in our automobiles. Converting to mogas should have begun thirty years ago. It should have been accomplished before the end of the century including replacing old engines with unleaded fuel engines.

    So because of the aviation industry’s lack of forethought todays GA pilots are paying exorbitant fuel costs and will continue to do so as long as the advantages of converting to mogas are ignored.

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