At the recent AOPA Aviation Summit, several industry leaders made the startling comment that lead in avgas is going away. Well, duh, what do you think I have been saying for the last 20 years?
The comments fall into three general areas: The first is the gloom and doom group that feel that it is all over and that we should just scrap all of the planes and have everyone in GA go find a new hobby to dump money into. The second group is in denial — they do not believe the EPA will actually go through with its threat to outlaw leaded fuels. And the third group believes that someone will come up with a miracle fuel that will replace 100LL, cost less, and perform better in all applications.
For the third group, I was going to say that there really isn’t a Santa Claus, but I am sure that these people still believe in the jolly old man.
The second group is almost as naive as the third group. The EPA is going to regulate lead out of avgas. The question is when and has nothing to do with facts or data. The people at the AOPA meeting were guessing that it will go away in the 2016-2017 time frame. That’s a good a guess as any, but I would remind people that there are several elections between now and then, so things can change quickly. And I have seen a lot of deadlines given, starting with 1995, and they have all come and gone.
For the first group, don’t despair — there is some hope. Pilots with non-turbo/super-charged engines have nothing to worry about. When the new unleaded fuel does finally appear, your engines will work well. Other than changes at your next overhaul, it will be basically an invisible change. On the positive side, all of the 80/87 engines and Rotax 4-cycle engines will finally be able to buy fuel at any and all local airports.
On the negative side, there is the very real problem of turbo/super-charged engines and the big radials. These will all need to be modified in some way and someone will need to re-qualify and then be legally liable for the proper operation of these engines on the new fuel. This may mean that some of them — especially rare models — may become static displays.
The thing that got me most were the comments such as “GA is scrambling to find alternatives” and “We have just one shot at this, so we need to make the right decision.” Where have these people been? For the past 20 years there has been only one solution to what the unleaded fuel will be, and that is a fuel made from the same components as 100LL, only without the lead and with a lean rating of around 94.
This isn’t rocket science or magic, it is just common sense, which is in very short supply. We don’t need industry leaders who go around screaming the sky is falling. We have elected officials to do that. What we need is leadership who will actually lead and start working with the EPA and others to try and make this transition as safe and painless as possible.
Ben Visser is an aviation fuels and lubricants expert who spent 33 years with Shell Oil. He has been a private pilot since 1985. You can contact him at Visser@GeneralAviationNews.com.