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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