For decades, the general aviation industry has been working to find a viable alternative to the leaded gasoline filling the fuel tanks at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2011. During that time, a variety of ideas for unleaded fuels have come and gone. Their demise usually is based on economics, toxicity equal to or greater than leaded fuels, or other factors. And there has been little real incentive to replace 100LL, or a sense of urgency.
All that changed on April 28, 2010, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on lead emissions from piston-engine aircraft using leaded aviation gasoline.
The EPA’s action resulted from an October 2006 petition filed by environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE), which sought regulation of lead emissions from general aviation aircraft.
The EPA’s action seeks public comment on the environment’s “lead inventory related to use of leaded avgas, air quality and exposure information.”
Additionally, the EPA will be collecting information “related to the impact of lead emissions from piston-engine aircraft on air quality.”
Once that information is collected and analyzed by the EPA, it may or may not find that leaded avgas endangers human health.
Even if an endangerment finding is determined by the EPA, the immediate result may not be a ban on leaded avgas.
The EAA, which for three decades has been involved with promoting alternative aviation fuels, responded to this challenge by helping form the General Aviation Avgas Coalition, which is composed of GA aircraft operators, aircraft and powerplant manufacturers, avgas point of sale/fixed-based operators, and avgas producers.
The future of GA fuel is a technical matter, EAA believes, and requires collaboration from all entities involved, including government, industry, and the GA community.
Specific issues the coalition has highlighted include:
- Reformulation of avgas without an adequate solution that meets the needs of the entire existing fleet at this time would create negative safety implications; and
- Creating multiple grades of fuel for aviation use would bring difficulties in distribution that could hamper availability in some areas.
Additionally, the avgas coalition believes any current finding on lead endangerment is premature, as additional data is still forthcoming and current data is incomplete.
Complete data is not expected until early 2012, when ongoing studies are complete.
Seeking a common solution
The best solution will be found by working in cooperation with FAA and GA stakeholders, so that the aviation industry and affected businesses are not endangered.
That latter point—that the FAA and industry must work together—has been agreed to.
In response, the FAA formed the Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee (UAT ARC), composed of representatives from industry organizations, manufacturers, the EPA, and the petroleum industry.
A public presentation by the UAT ARC was scheduled during AirVenture but was canceled in the aftermath of the FAA’s partial shutdown.
Immediate plans for the UAT ARC include developing clear-cut processes to meet various concerns regarding FAA regulatory approvals, marketing and distribution challenges, and technical standards.
In the near term, work at the UAT ARC will continue, as will field development of alternatives. At present, the UAT ARC’s charter expires on January 31, 2012, and the FAA says the panel “will strive to complete its work and issue a recommended plan well before this new date.”