Unleaded alternative to 100LL still years away
After 20 years of searching, it’s become obvious there will not be a drop-in replacement for 100LL. That’s the word from key members of the Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), who gave an update on the committee’s progress at this year’s AOPA Aviation Summit.
“One of the key conclusions the committee came to recently is that there is not going to be a drop-in replacement,” said Michael Kraft, senior vice president and general manager at Lycoming.
Now, the committee is focused on identifying the path forward to the resolution of all the issues to get an unleaded alternative to 100LL to market.
“We cannot underestimate how many boxes need to be checked off to get a new fuel to market,” he said, ticking off just a few: Engines, aircraft, POH, distribution, and fuel production, noting that the issues go down to the smallest details, such as fittings and hoses.
“We have to make sure we touch all the pieces,” he said. “There is nothing complex, but we have to be sure all the boxes are checked off or we will have a really great fuel but not the means to get it into the tank.”
The ARC’s most significant work, he said, is to “identify the path forward to the resolution of all these problems.”
Getting it right now is imperative, he added. “We don’t want a solution that will have an adverse impact on safety,” he said, noting the committee needs to consider environmental issues as well. “We know we will have a fuel without TEL (tetraethyl lead), but we want to make certain the new fuel doesn’t have long-term toxicology or environmental issues so that we’ll have to find another new fuel in a couple of years. We want the new fuel to be viable for a long time.”
Kraft and other committee members are confident that will happen as the ARC has brought together all the stakeholders involved in the search for a new avgas, from the FAA and the EPA, to officials with Continental, Lycoming, Cessna, and Cirrus, to fuel producers, to the companies involved in the search for a new fuel, including Swift Fuels and GAMI.
“This is an unprecedented collaboration,” said Rob Hackman, vice president of regulatory affairs with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which is also on the ARC, along with officials from other alphabet groups, including EAA, NBAA, GAMA, NATA.
Having officials from the FAA and EPA at the same table with industry representatives is a critical element in the process, committee members said.
After an environmental group, the Friends of the Earth, petitioned the EPA to make a finding that avgas was a danger, a bit of panic set in among those in GA who were afraid 100LL would be banned, effectively grounding the GA fleet.
Breathe easy, committee members say, noting the work being done by the ARC ensures that the FAA and EPA will work together to find a solution. “No matter what happens, the EPA won’t go off on its own,” said the FAA’s Robert Ganley. “Any action will require a rulemaking process, which is a multi-year process.”
In fact, the EPA has not yet made an endangerment finding related to avgas, which is the only leaded fuel still used, and it has not proposed a ban on 100LL.
“But the industry is not waiting for a finding of endangerment,” Hackman said. “The industry needs to have something in place.”
“The game plan is to have an alternative, so if an EPA decision comes down, we are ready,” Kraft added.
While no firm dates are in place for the transition, EPA officials have targeted 2018 as when they’d like an alternative fuel available.
The ARC, which continues to meet about four times a month in Washington, D.C., is in beginning stages of writing its report, which is due to be turned into the FAA administrator Jan. 31, 2012.
“We’re at the stage where it’s pen to paper, where the real decisions are made,” Ganley said.
The report won’t recommend a particular fuel, but rather lay out an “overall project plan,” including recommendations and a framework for the transition to an unleaded fuel, Hackman added.
Once the ARC report is turned in, FAA officials will evaluate the recommendations, then determine implementation, timing, funding, and the next steps. ARC members say those next steps — whatever they may be — will be in coordination with the industry to ensure a “boring” transition to an unleaded fuel.