At this year’s SUN ‘n FUN, visitors saw a fuel truck with Swift Fuels emblazoned on its side.
It was there to promote the company’s unleaded UL94 avgas, the first of the company’s products to make it to market.
“We introduced the 94 fuel two and a half years ago to make it clear that this stuff is doable,” said CEO Chris D’Acosta. “People shouldn’t think, ‘Oh my God, is it going to be some weird thing?’ It’s not. It’s just unleaded fuel, that’s all. Airplanes still perform like airplanes.”
He notes that while some pilots are worried about what the unleaded fuel will do to their engines, he has no “qualms” about the 94 fuel or the other Swift fuel that is going through FAA testing now.
He reports that two fuels — one from Swift and one from Shell — are in Phase Two of the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI) Program, which involves a combination of engine testing and flight testing, orchestrated by the FAA.A few weeks before SUN ’n FUN, D’Acosta reported that the fuels were being tested in about eight locations, including a tech center in Atlantic City, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with Lycoming, in Mobile, Alabama, with Continental, in Austria with Go Tech, in Duluth, Minnesota, with Cirrus, in Wichita with Textron, and in Torrance, California, with Robinson.
“It’s been tested by the engine makers and the tech center,” he said. “The preliminary reports from those all look solid. In other words, no red flags, which is consistent with earlier tests.”
According to PAFI’s timeline, approval is expected by the end of 2018. That will be followed by about six months while the FAA certifies the fuel and ASTM writes the formal specification.
“The next question is ‘what’s the transition plan,’” he asked. “We expect there will be a program announcement that would call for the hows and the whens.”
He reported there is a team of industry and FAA officials who are working on deployment of the new unleaded fuel. Main questions involve how will deployment work, as well as anticipating what issues there might be.
He notes that he doesn’t have any control over the deployment of the fuel to general aviation.
“Will it be one fuel? Will it be two fuels? What will the implications be to the market? I can’t predict that right this second,” he said. “Pilots don’t know what to expect, and so it’s going to take some direction from the FAA to clarify how it’s going to work. Those are the kind of questions that the deployment team is asking itself, too.”
He’s quick to point out that he has confidence that whatever fuel is rolled out, it will work.
“The FAA is going through painstaking care to make sure that whatever solution enters the market is safe,” he said. “Flight safety is their highest criteria.”
“We’re asking people to be patient, and have trust and confidence in the fact that the FAA is full of bright, intelligent people,” he said. “These people are highly talented, they work hard, and they work as a team. They don’t deserve the generic rap that comes sometimes from people who like to criticize the FAA for being slow or lethargic. They have a lot of regulations to carry in their bag.”