By DEAN BILLING.
I’m submitting this blog on Feb. 2, 2016, Groundhog Day. I think it is the appropriate date choice for my latest GAFuels topic.
It is the kind of day the FAA should get out its plan for the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI), dust it off and see if there is a ray of hope of finding the 100 octane unleaded fuel holy grail.
Or perhaps they see no light at the end of the tunnel and shelve the project into the dustbin of bureaucracy, hoping nobody notices.
According to PAFI Phase 1 Test Program documentation found here, Phase 1 testing was supposed to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2015, i.e. Dec. 31, 2015.
If you view the overall PAFI schedule on page 4 of the plan, the request for Phase 2 Fuels was supposed to be announced by Jan. 30, 2016. Ironically, that date is a Saturday, last Saturday to be precise.
Does anyone believe the FAA bureaucrats would make an announcement on Saturday? If the announcement is published before this blog is published, please accept my apologies for making light of the fact the FAA missed their deadline. Quite frankly, I expected the announcement in a more timely manner, say last week.
If you commit arcane aviation fuel data trivia to memory, you remember there are four fuels under scrutiny. In a strange twist of fate, two different fuels are from the same company, Swift Fuels, an aviation fuel newcomer; one is from Shell Oil, definitely an oil industry heavyweight; and one is from Total, a European petroleum industry heavyweight. (Strangely enough, if you search the Total website, no mention is made about the PAFI program. According to this article, the submission is actually a consortium effort by Hjelmco, BP and Total.)
In any case, one of these days the FAA should be making an announcement about the Phase 2 winners as outlined in the initiative documents: “Based on this assessment, the FAA TEC will select the two fuels determined to have the lowest impact on the GA fleet and the production and distribution infrastructure for participation in the Phase 2 test program in early 2016.”
Once that occurs, it will only be another two years until the Phase 2 results are announced and we have a 100 octane unleaded aviation fuel. The neatly typed schedule says Dec. 31, 2018.
Of course, whether that winner is a viable commercial solution is another matter entirely. But, for the sake of argument let’s say there is a technically successful solution.
How long will it take to get the new fuel into commercial production and distributed to what is left of our aviation infrastructure? That timeline does not show up in the neatly typed PAFI schedule.
Hope you are not holding your breath. I know I’m not. I buy 91 AKI auto fuel, the three decades old approved unleaded aviation fuel, for my airplanes.