Supply and demand

Ben Sclair is publisher of General Aviation News.

Would you fly more if fuel cost less? I bet you would.

What do you think the general aviation marketplace would look like in five years if a majority of the GA fleet could enjoy a 30% reduction in their per gallon fuel bill? Oh, if only we could reduce the cost of fuel 30%.

Hey, did you know that mogas cost about 30% less than avgas, on average? It does. On Feb. 17, the average cost of 100LL was $5.09 a gallon, according to the website 100LL.com, and the average cost of mogas was $3.40, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Okay, so I lied. On Feb. 17 the average gallon of mogas was 33% cheaper than the average gallon of avgas.

If only we could burn mogas in our airplanes. [My phone’s ringing]. Excuse me, I’ll be right back.

Um, how do I say this? Mogas is an FAA-approved fuel. There are a few caveats (aren’t there always?). Simplified, they are:

  • Low-compression aircraft engines only;
  • Aircraft must have a mogas STC; and
  • Mogas can not contain ethanol.

Man, tens of thousands of aircraft owners are down with numbers one and two, but hardly any of us is down with three.

Can you believe it? A slip of paper and ethanol-free mogas are all that stand in the way of hundreds of thousands of pilots saving 30%, or more, off their fuel bills. (I feel like a Geico commercial — 30 minutes could save you 30%).

If only there were other benefits to lowering the cost of flying.

But there are. Here are just a few off the top of my head:

Pilots will fly more, maintaining better currency, becoming safer pilots, while pumping more gas, which increases the Aviation Trust Fund balance, which can be put to use for better aviation infrastructure.

Oh, and those planes flying more hours will require a bit more maintenance, or at least more often, which should make our mechanics happier.

And from AOPA’s flight training research last year, we know that student pilots “are more concerned about getting good value with the money they spend than about the actual dollars and cents amount.” Well, cost plays a part in value, so lowering cost should make the “value” of learning to fly easier to compute.

If only there was something we could do to make it easier to get ethanol-free mogas. If only…

Comments

  1. Russell Turner – “Both Cessna and Piper issued statements that MOGAS should not be used in their aircraft.” Wasn’t just Cessna and Piper, it was also Continental and Lycoming that issued statements that mogas should not be used in aircraft with their engines on them. Of course Lycoming did an about face with the O-233 LSA engine which is approved for mogas and they also announced a line of O-360 engines for homebuilts, more than a year ago, that were approved for mogas. And then there are the gasoline producers which almost universally have statements somewhere on their web sites that say that their product should not be used in aviation even though it is an FAA approved aviation fuel. The only conclusion you can draw is that the legal departments at all of these firms are playing CYA, which is normal in aviation, but that has nothing to do with good engineering practices. The whole lot of them should be reminded that the STC process was just as rigorous as the original certification process that the FAA used to approve all of the aircraft, engines and fuels involved, and in reality, sometimes more rigorous.

    What is truly ironic is that the statement on the Continental web site, which appears to have been removed (it used to be here: http://tcmlink.com/carenfeed/engoperhdr.html), said that NO unleaded fuel should ever be used with any of their engines. Then, lo and behold, last year, Continental said that it thought that the newly approved 94UL avgas would work just fine in all but a couple of their engines. Go figure.

  2. Dick Chapman – I don’t see where anyone has claimed that there should only be one avgas. That’s the point. The 100 octane people say that there needs to only be one avgas, 100 LL or whatever replaces it. The reality is that the fuel recommended for those “toys” that you are disparaging is unleaded auto fuel, not 100 LL. If you use 100 LL in those “toys” you vastly increase the maintenance costs of the engines. And by the way, the Caravan is a turbine, it doesn’t need 100 LL either. Caravan pilots get the fuel they need on our airports, so why shouldn’t the pilots flying the “toys” get the fuel they need?

  3. Russell Turner – Why would the press not report negative results from using mogas? You say there were problems. So list them, but not unless you can substantiate them.

    Use of mogas was never banned in Europe for any airplane. What you’re referring to is England and the CAA. CAA withdrew the approval they (CAA) granted (not a US STC) following a single report of a vapor lock in an unmodified PA-28-180. Our STC modifies PA-28-180’s. What you’re referring to took place in England, not all of Europe. Continental Europe has been and remains a core market for mogas STC’s where fully 50% of the GA fleet burns mogas. Our STC’s were never banned there, not for any airplane. CAA later decided to deny use of 91 octane STC’s because they didn’t think English fuel could be counted on to actually deliver 91 octane. All of this is a far cry from “banning” STC’s because of difficulties, which is what you imply.

    You refer to AC’s but fail to give the AC numbers so we may look them up. I am not aware of the AC you refer to concerning financial damages but would like to see it if you can provide it. You throw rocks at something that has saved thousands of pilots millions of dollars. If you’re going to do so, then you should substantiate what you’re saying, otherwise you confuse everyone and lend nothing to the discussion.

  4. Kent Misegades says:

    Ben, there is a way to get autogas on your airfield, it is the Aviation Fuel Club, http://www.aviationfuelclub.org, a new grassroots effort that is helping many airports do just this. The club’s new Sport Fuel program will assure that airports selling this “brand” are offering aviation-quality ethanol-free fuel and storing it in aviation-grade equipment. Directors of the AFC (I am one) are working with airports across the country, even in California where autogas will be offered soon for the first time in many years. Not sure where Mr. Turner got his information, but in Germany where I travel and fly often, 50% of all aviation fuel burned is ethanol-free autogas, both in legacy aircraft with Petersen STCs and in new generation aircraft engines. The purported high cost of fuel equipment is a Red Herring. An airport does not need a 20,000g stainless steel tank to sell autogas. Many do just fine with a small 500-1000g tank or even a military surplus fuel trailer one can find for under $1000. Just make sure you sump the tank and use quality filters, and you’re in business.

  5. It is all well to claim that ultra lights and the new LSA aircraft use mogas, but would you want to put one of these little engines in a Cessna 185 or Caravan?

    We are talking about toys compared to real aircraft! There is a difference and aviation fuel should be available as well as mogas! It is just another case of the greedy oil companies controlling the world!

  6. There is another advantage to using mogas. You aren’t spewing lead into the environment.

    Pilots should also know that the majority the tens of thousands of homebuilt aircraft can use mogas, as well as all ultralights and for 99+% of the new LSA aircraft, mogas is the recommended fuel, not 100 LL which increases their maintenance costs drastically.

  7. This is really boiling down to the have and have nots. Any airport can sell ethanol free premium mogas, but the expense of installing another set of fuel tanks and pumps is a financial impediment. The FBOs need to know they will get a reasonable return on their investment. The EAA and AOPA want a one fuel solution regardless of the cost. That provides fuel for the high end operators, but leaves those of us at the low end often times priced out of aviation. Right now, there is not a good solution on the horizon. Every 100LL replacement solution is looking to be significantly more expensive than 100LL. Is that really where we pilots want to go?

  8. Ethanol in autogas is where Big Oil meets Big Ag. The farm state lobby has this issue all wrapped up in Congress and that’s where the change has to be made. If you want to run E-10, E-15, E-85 or straight ethanol in your vehicle that has been manufactured to use ethanol, fine. But mandating that all fuel at the pump must be blended with alcohol is a tremendous disservice to those of us who have to run lawnmowers, vintage motorcycles and older cars on the stuff.

    The previous owner of my Luscombe had an autogas STC. Ethanol has screwed up the entire fuel system from the tank bladders down the fuel lines and through the carburetor. The only thing that keeps ethanol in our fuel is Congress. It makes absolutely no economic sense to convert food crop land to fuel crop land. But it makes sense in Washingtoon.

  9. Fellow airgraft owners,
    I have read almost anything there is about alternate fuel , and I still do’nt comprehend why is it that we cannot find one MOgas that is not compromised by ETHANOL.
    I own an AC 680 , full high compression, how in heavens can I bring these monster engines back to low compressiion or better whick fuel is there without Ethanol ? Here in Puerto Rico we only have two types of Mogas and If I am correct, only one supplier. So as you see , I dont stand a chance of using an alternative fuel.
    And this is not because the engines won’t run on car gas, because when President IKE was flying around on the only GEN AV airplane that has had the distinction of being AIR FORCE ONE
    the goverment put this airplane thru more test that even Commander did and deemed it safe for our FIRST EXECUTIVE to fly around in it and this while flyng it himself. And after this beautiful careeer , here is and airplane that will soon be grounded because we cant find a good fuel source of carburant for it ??? I guess all this sounds a little far fetched to some, But soon even our AVGAS will have ethanol or something else, so we can have a ” so called cost effective ” fuel for our flying pleasure. Well , we will soon see if this comes about or not.
    Have A GOOD ONE FELLOW AIRPLANE OWNERS AND PILOTS. happy flying and GOD BLESS.

  10. Get rid of the EPA and environmentalists. They are a bunch of con-men/women anyway.

    Plus, elect representatives that oppose the ethanol farm subsidy that only serves to raise prices on gasoline AND food.

  11. Ben,

    I wish your scenario were accurate but it is missing a lot of information and is misleading to the reader,

    In the height of the MOGAS use there were a number of problems with it.. Many persons ignored the problems and the bad incidents were not reported in the aviation press. Many persons used MOGAS without reading the advisory circulars issued by the FAA and the press did not fully report that the use of MOGAS, in spite of the STC, was banned from Pipers in Europe due to vapor lock problems. Both Cessna and Piper issued statements that MOGAS should not be used in their aircraft.

    The wording in the Advisory Circular on MOGAS was harsh. A mixture of a single gallon of automobile fuel in a tank of aviation fuel converted the entire load to MOGAS status and the circular stated in bold print that an accident in a MOGAS fueled airplane, even if the accident was not fuel related, might result in ASTRONOMICAL FINANCIAL DAMAGES to the person using MOGAS even if the airplane bore the proper logbook signoffs and the proper decals supplied with the STCs. (the FAA’s wording, not mine)

    This does not even address the issue that many airplanes sit for months with filled gas tanks and are not flown regularly enough to prevent deterioration of the fuel no matter how well intentioned the pilots are. The resulting damage to airplanes offsets the savings on fuel costs.

    Please do not accept my word on this. Do the research in aviation (FAA) archives. I am also sure that the AOPA might have the information if you specifically ask for it.

  12. re: Monday’s Mogas piece:
    Well said, Ben, and–please–keep saying it.
    –Paul

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