A roadmap to finding a new fuel

The transition to an unleaded aviation fuel is still years away, according to the final report from the FAA’s Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee (UAT ARC).

And whether it is GAMI’s G100UL, Swift Fuels biofuel, or some other alternative, all candidate fuels require “significant assessment” by the FAA to ensure safety, according to the final report of the collaborative industry-government task force, which was made up of representatives of aircraft and engine manufacturers, fuel producers and distributors, operator groups, aviation associations, the FAA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Created in June 2010, the UAT ARC held seven full committee meetings of three days each in Washington, D.C., which were supplemented by 11 full committee teleconferences and an additional 35 focus area teleconferences. All told, the committee spent more than 4,000 man hours meeting, the final report details.

The main takeaway in that final report? That a “drop-in” unleaded replacement fuel that can be seamlessly deployed for the existing fleet of aircraft is not available.

Furthermore, there is not a market-driven reasons to move to a replacement fuel due to the limited size and specialty nature of avgas, combined with the safety, liability and expense involved with a complex approval and deployment process, according to the report.

So then why all the fuss? “It is also important to understand that the pressures to replace 100LL are not market driven but are extraneous to the markets,” the report reads. “Current pressures include the threats of legal action at the state level, and EPA consideration of potential regulatory actions at the federal level driven by the Clean Air Act.”

The UAT ARC provided several recommendations and detailed action plans necessary for the development and deployment of an unleaded avgas. Key recommendations include:

  • Implementation of a “Fuel Development Roadmap” that identifies specific milestones in the avgas development process and information needed to support assessment of the viability of candidate fuels in terms of impact on aircraft and production infrastructure and economic considerations;
  • Centralized testing of candidate unleaded fuels at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center funded by government and industry in-kind contributions to generate qualification and certification data; and
  • Establishment of a collaborative industry-government initiative, referred to as the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI) to coordinate implementation of the UAT ARC recommendations to develop and deploy an unleaded avgas with the least impact on the existing piston-engine aircraft fleet.

FAA officials report the agency has already started the initial R&D work at the FAA Technical Center. It also has hired a transition consultant to start forming PAFI.

Up to 10 unleaded aviation gasoline candidates could be evaluated at the technical center. This would generate qualification and certification data on the most promising candidates within five years, according to the UAT ARC report.

As the actual transition to an unleaded avgas depends directly on the level of impact on the existing fleet and fuel production infrastructure, the committee also noted that an additional six years may be needed for additional assessment and testing.

After its review, the FAA “found the information and recommendations contained in the report to be very helpful in understanding the challenges of transitioning the piston engine-powered fleet to an unleaded avgas.”

A joint statement from GA’s alphabet groups, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), noted that the group “believes the recommendations are critically important to facilitating a transition to an unleaded avgas that works for the entire fleet. It will give owners and operators added confidence that the industry is on the right path to a solution.”

The GA associations will continue to work with the FAA “in developing, implementing and funding an unleaded avgas plan that includes the key elements outlined in the ARC’s report which are necessary to facilitate the development and deployment of an unleaded avgas with least impact upon the existing piston-engine aircraft fleet,” the prepared statement concluded.

The final, 99-page UAT-ARC report is available on the FAA website.


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  1. says

     “Current pressures include the threats of legal action at the state level, and EPA consideration of potential regulatory actions at the federal level driven by the Clean Air Act.”
    How ironic that the probably single most important “pressure” to find an unleaded avgas isn’t even mentioned above.  There is only one producer of TEL in the world and by the end of next year, by their own admission, the only market for TEL will be the constantly dwindling and piddling amount of 100 LL avgas.  Great business model in this declining worldwide business economy, and one of these days their bean counters are probably going to convince management to shut the plant down.

    • Joe_S says

      This has been coming since the 1980’s, and everyone (Lycoming, Continental, the alphabet soups, and so on) all stuck their heads in the sand. My friend (a pilot since the 1960’s) saw this coming and sold his turbo twin in 1991. I have looked at the economics, and GA either needs (for those of us that would like high flying turbos (not everyone hangs around the patch) something that is 100 unleaded, or a switch to diesels with the FAA easing the STC process. I’d prefer that we actually were able to switch to JetA for the whole fleet (single fuel, easier for FBO’s, no misfueling, and so on) but I’m a realist. That realism also leads me to believe that without a single unleaded fuel, we’re going to die a slow death as GA is limited to low altitude patch flying or the turboprops.

  2. Kent Misegades says

    The fuel already exists: 91+ AKI ethanol-free, lead-free autogas, an FAA-approved aviation fuel since 1982 that can power over 80% of all existing piston-engine aircraft.  Attend our forum, “Autogas at 30 Years”, in Oshkosh on Thursday, July 26th at 11:30 to learn about its excellent track-record, as well as new developments that will allow 100% of all piston aircraft to operate on this cheap, affordable fuel.

    • Joe_S says

      Will it run in a Beech V35B IO-550B Turbo Normalized? That’s the plane I have because I want to fly high and fast to my destinations. I have no desire to fly lower or slower. The thing that’s painful to me is the loss of that.

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