Avgas Issues Will Take Time To Resolve

 - November 1, 2012, 12:35 AM
A typical Proposition 65 warning from California fuel manufacturers.

The aviation industry is slowly headed toward development of an unleaded replacement fuel for avgas-burning piston-powered aircraft, and a recent move by the FAA is an encouraging sign that progress will continue. The FAA recently agreed to open a new Fuels Program Office, according to NATA, that will provide “technical expertise and strategic direction in the planning, management and coordination of activities related to aviation fuels.”

NATA and several other aviation associations (AOPA, EAA, GAMA and NBAA) sent a letter on August 1 to FAA acting administrator Michael Huerta, asking for the FAA’s help in funding and managing efforts to find a suitable replacement for 100LL (100-octane) avgas. 100LL relies on the additive tetraethyl lead to prevent detonation in high-compression piston engines that power high-performance aircraft, and pressure from environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has intensified scrutiny of leaded avgas.

An aviation rulemaking committee has explored the avgas issue and made recommendations to the FAA. According to the association letter to the FAA, “We are at a critical phase between consideration of the Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee (UAT ARC) recommendations and implementation of a fiscally responsible FAA unleaded avgas program that will achieve this objective.” The letter asked Huerta to fund the FAA’s avgas program with $5.5 million in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, “not only for the economic sustainability of general aviation in the U.S., but also for its safety.”

The FAA avgas program will help in two key ways. One is to demonstrate that the FAA and industry are working together on a clear path to an unleaded fuel replacement. Without that clarity, owners, operators and investors won’t be motivated to maintain their aircraft and invest in new avionics and other aviation technologies. “An avgas program is also needed to support the FAA’s statutory role in cooperation with the EPA to implement any lead emissions standards for aircraft it deems necessary under the Clean Air Act,” according to the letter.

The UAT ARC report was submitted to the FAA earlier this year and recommended five key elements covering testing and certification of an unleaded avgas that would power the existing piston-engine fleet. The report noted that there is currently no drop-in replacement for 100LL avgas (although lower-power engines can operate on automotive unleaded gas in some aircraft, under a supplemental type certificate).

According to the associations’ letter, “The FAA’s direct involvement and participation in this process is critical to ensuring a fleet-wide transition to an unleaded avgas that will maintain consumer confidence and ensure the least impact on the existing fleet. The establishment of the new Fuels Program Office will ensure an efficient use of both government and industry resources and will provide a more comprehensive pathway and timeline to an unleaded fuel.”

Debate Continues in California

Meanwhile, in California, the battle between the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and fuel sellers and distributors continues. Last year, CEH, a San Francisco-based environmental group, filed notices of violation (NOVs) against California-based avgas sellers, distributors and manufacturers. California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act requires companies that use substances known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm to warn people who might be exposed to these substances. The act, also known as Proposition 65, allows anyone to file a citizen’s enforcement action on behalf of Californians 60 days after serving the notices, unless the state attorney general brings suit first. CEH is seeking to block the sale of leaded avgas in California and wants to impose financial penalties on the companies named in the NOVs because the companies didn’t warn people about the potential exposure to leaded avgas. And if CEH is successful, it will earn revenues because the law allows such organizations to receive a portion of any financial penalties imposed on the violators.

Fuel companies and FBOs have formed the CA Avgas Coalition to fight the prospect of financial penalties because of CEH’s actions. Little progress has been made, and CEH and the coalition are still negotiating. “Typically, the goal with our litigation is not to have a trial but to negotiate a consent judgment, with both sides coming to an agreement that accomplishes the goals, and everybody can live with it,” said Caroline Cox, research director at CEH. “That process can be time-consuming.” She anticipates that any judgment will include reducing the exposure to lead and warning people about the exposure. If the exposure amount can be reduced below the state’s safe harbor level, then no warning about the substance is necessary, she explained.

Some California FBOs have raised the price of avgas to cover the cost of defending against the CEH’s actions. David Mills, general manager of Business Jet Center at Oakland International Airport, said, “We are part of the Avgas Coalition. It was a strategic and financial decision to join: there’s strength in numbers and it’s better to share defense costs than go it alone. We have increased the price of avgas by $0.25 per gallon to cover a small percentage of the cost of litigation defense.”


This is all a bunch of pablum being fed to us by bureucrats in the FAA and people
with interests in keeping the price of avgas high. Most of our planes will perform perfectly and sometimes even better (no fouled plugs) with mogas; if we can find
non-alcohol-laced car gas. The solution is to pull the alcohol out of car gas and sell it for a lesser amount than 100LL. But that would take some of the profit out for the fuel suppliers. Simple. FBOs can supply it in self-serve fashion and thus not have labor costs associated with delivery to the user. I try find gas stations that sell pure car gas and use their product all the time in a Lyc. 0-360 with
excellent results.


I basically agree with you, Tony. However, there are a few caveats. High performance GA aircraft must use 100LL. Also, let's not forget that most of our planes require an STC to burn mogas legally, which costs money ... $150 in the case of my Continental O-200. Second, I agree with later points that we must find sources of ethanol-free mogas; that's not always so easy. I would never burn gas containing ethanol in my plane. There are a few stations in SC which carry non-ethanol mogas, but I have to go out of my way to pick it up in plastic gas containers. Not only is it inconvenient, but with colder weather coming on that increases the risk of blowing myself up due to greater static electricity in the air. Also, mogas is dirtier than aviation fuel and it grows stale more quickly, so one must be careful where you buy it and how long you store it. Still, mogas is an acceptable alternative which I am evaluating more thoroughly. A few private airports here are starting to have it available to local pilots.

How many high performance aircraft engines are there out there in the fleet? Not counting low compression non turbo charged engines...point is there are more then likely, more emissions from NASCAR then aviation. The need is to not stop the production of leaded fuel, the need is to develop more efficient engines for new aircraft and let the older ones dye a natural death....in the case of the extreme few, like classics and antiques the leaded fuel is necessary to preserve that heritage....we all know that every form of power has certain set backs....what about volcanoes and hurricanes are we going to outlaw them as well.....the impact needs to determine the fix if needed...not going after a cause, just because.....

As an owner of a Cessna 182 with a Continental O470 that has roots back to WWII I think the comment on letting the old engines die and replacing them is naive at best. These old engines still cost $25,000 or more to replace when it's overhaul time, not a minor expense; but, a bargain compared to buying a new engine, that requires custom fitting to the airplane that includes replacing everything under the cowling and possible the cowling too. That cost could easily exceed the value of the airplane.
I do have an STC for my Cessna to burn autogas but unfortunately the State of NH didn't seem to think that aviation or any other user of non-ethanol gasoline was very important and thus made no provisions to permit its sale in NH so residents of NH have spent Millions of dollars repairing engines, boats, motorcycles etc. because of ethanol damage to fuel systems and eating the higher operating cost of their aircraft. My fuel cost is doubled using 100LL vs. autogas.
The EPA never mandated NH sell gasoline with ethanol, it was a voluntary action by the NH Department of Environmental Services with total disregard to the user costs associated with its use. At the same time neither Vermont or Maine were selling autogas containing ethanol.
Note; the ethanol in autogas in added at the terminal point where the tankers fill up to deliver the autogas to service stations; this is because autogas containing ethanol has a relatively short storage life before the ethanol and gasoline begin to separate and cause fuel system damage. This life is only 3 weeks or so; a good reason to use 100LL in some equipment that's stored seasonally if you don't want to damage your fuel system. There are many articles of fuel system damage by gasoline containing ethanol that can be found on the internet.

The war on 100LL Avgas is a read herring - I MEAN RED HERRING.... The intent is to divert attention away from other issues and make war on aviation as well... I've gone back and forth with Waxman a number of times... He hates people who can fly (have an active pilot's license), especially those who own an aircraft, or fly and/or own a jet.... AND Jets don't even use 100LL ... there isn't enough time here to go into how that argument occurred... but suffice it to say it had to do with having him point out aircraft that use 100LL....

But lets get down to it, I was gassing airplanes, cleaning wheel bearings, and bellys of aircraft with 100LL when I was nine years old while working for my dad with a Cessna Flight School, Sales and Service center, as well as handling Bellancas.... Citabrias and Vikings. I sold my first airplane at 14 and I've been handling 100LL for 50+ years without any - AND I MEAN -ANY- side effects.

So to those paranoid about 100LL - GROW UP - and stop being so damn paranoid. Don't believe everything the Environmentalist wackos tell you. I worked for Piper in Lock Haven for almost 10 years, which is considered an environmentally ensconced area and at last note, no one had been found with birth defects for that cause - although I wouldn't put it past some folks who would sue now, since it seems we have so many people and a government that will jump at filing a suit any time, just to make money or headlines.

To those who disagree - tuff ! I have lived this issue and won't nor have the time to argue with ignorance !

Jay Rohrbach
Pottstown, Pa

The article mentions that "although lower-power engines can operate on automotive unleaded gas in some aircraft, under a supplemental type certificate".

It should be noted it's not that simple. All Auto or MoGas STC's require there to be no ethanol in the fuel used in the aircraft. Alcohol in any form attacks the seals and sealant typically used in aircraft fuel systems.

The problem that now exists is FINDING an outlet for MoGas without added ethanol. That issue alone makes it hard enough to render the practicality of using MoGas null and void.

So the STC route is not a sure thing. Far from it. The article needs to mention that for the benefit of the reader who is not intimate with the aviation industry.

hope the ffa can finds gas for planes that ues 80. ocatane

Gami's GU100UL appears, in fact, to be a drop-in replacement for 100LL. I can't speculate on why the powers that be appear to ignore the extensive testing Gami has performed, but that testing and the positive results are well documented at http://www.gami.com/g100ul/g100ul.php for all, including pilots and politicians, to see.

I'm not a shill for gami, just a pilot who wants to be able to keep flying in my piston airplane with a convenient source of fuel. I urge all pilots to check the referenced website and ask their senators and representatives why the FAA is dragging its feet on this.

My major concern about unleaded fuels is the potential of contamination with fuel oil.jet fuels,etc.

If contaminated with fuel oil, and NO LEAD, we are now faced with the potential of Algae growth in our tanks. Algae grows on copper, in fuels where there is water ( from condensation).

Lead prevents the algae growth, and algacides prevents algae growth in jet fuels; but is not added to fuel oils......

Unleaded auto fuel without ethonol, is also suseptsable to algae growth,ut prevented in modern autos, becauswe the fuel system is a closed system preventing water condensation.

So, if we get an unleaded aircraft fule, it appears to me we must also need to add an algacide, such as added to jet fuels to prevent algae growth contamination.

I believe it is the wrong way to insist on a special fuel for future piston engine small airplanes only. Special fuels result in high fuel prices. That is happening today and this is one main reason, why private flying is declining.

Gas engines have some benefits to diesel engines. From weight to the use in lower temperatures. I see only a future to fly SE airplanes when it would be possible to fly with auto fuels as it is sold at street gas stations.

May be it needs some restrictions to fly with automobile gas like altitude, time gas remaining in tanks unused, and more. But restrictions are not unusual. Diesel SE planes have restrictions too.

I would recommend that the FAA is not only looking to an industry and to airplane owners which rely on outdated technology. The FAA and the Organizations should look more in the further future and should enable a change in the airplane fleet based on diesel and auto street gas piston engines.

Perhaps the FAA can publish what automobile street auto gas, if any, can be used in aviation under what circumstances and restrictions to make new developments possible.

First the environmental danger panic from lead in 100LL seems ridiculous. For 60 years ALL gasoline was leaded yet people were not dieing in the streets from lead poisoning. How could the tiny amount of TEL now being used, perhaps 1/1000 of the previous usage, have any measurable health risk?

But, since MOGAS will always be the most available and cheapest fuel available let's stop playing games and come up with modifications, where necessary, to burn out of the gasoline station pump fuel, even E-10. If we need to lower compression, retard timing, replace seals and bladders let's just do it. I can buy 91 octane right now for $3.50/gallon. I am NOT interested in an even more expensive non TEL 100 octane fuel.

If I'm not mistaken the Europeans having been flying on 91/96UL for years- DROP IN! So why- never mind. search : Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL

93 Octane Mogas is available, at a moderately higher cost than the gas station car gas (usually $.50 to 1.00/gal), at most marinas for boats. The cost, $4-5/gal, is still well below 100LL ($6-8/gal, depending on the region and market). The boats have the same seal problems as cars, and GA planes. Since there is a huge market of boaters using and wanting nonE10 gas, maybe a concerted marketing effort can keep costs down by aggressively approaching both populations of users.

I am an A&P and have been an old hot rodder for years and if these idiots in the money grubbing white house would bring back regular un tainted unleaded gas it will work fine in most planes..The problem is ethanol plain and simple is alcahol and will eat rubber seals and carb seat oring and lines as well as help to allow condensation by water,,and lord help you if you store a plane for any length of time...rust..rust..rust, in fuel bowls and strainers and carbs,,ive seen this first hand over and over. The cure is simple stop the jerks in charge if they allow ethanol vote thier ass out. I f they profit from it vote them out, if they support it vote them out..
lycoming says 93 octain non ethanol fuel has been proven to work just as well as 100ll i would recomend a slight 2 degre reduction in timing as aircraft do not have variable timing as autos do...reason tel lead provides extra lubrication and cooling under burn as it was designed for radials not a modern engine..Problem with all this is the feds wont ease up on the stc restriction for those of us who cant get one because our plane was not tested with for one,,if you make sure you use non ethanol fuel anyone should be allowed to switch .

Driving through Iowa I notice they have no-ethanol gasoline 90 Octane available at the pump, which I find remarkable given that they produce ethanol there! That supports the statement that ethanol is added locally, as in here in Michigan. If we could get a distributor to sell us the straight gasoline before ethanol is added, as in Iowa, we'd have our 80 Octane replacement fuel for the low-compression fleet. Another solution for the 100 Octane engines can then be developed over time.

Ethanol additives to Mogas seem to seem to be the Problem. I burn 100LL exclusivly in my airplane, pay more and do the added hassle of storage etc.
The argument is just dont add the ethanol and allow us to buy ordinary gas
from a distributor. Seems simple enough. I'm not willing to tank my low time
O-300B that uses 7gph. DUH!

As long as we, the people, keep electing environmentalists militants, we will continuing getting ridicule rules, regulations, laws, mandates. the dream of those in the EPA is total control of the individual and restriction of the personal freedoms. they create imaginary problems based in imaginary dreams and them they mandate imaginary solutions. The problem is not the fuel, the problem is the EPA. Lets get rid of it, they exceed their mandate.

This is a private pilot-private industry issue .
Why do we need government "expertise". Are there so few bright people left that we need more government oversight. Try asking China or Japan Perhaps, they can solve the issue.

The thought that most aircraft engines need tet. lead is simple folk lore. The last revision of ASTM D910 ADDED the requirment for a minimum amount of lead content, before that their was only a maximum allowable. Most 80/87 avgas was no-lead, lead was only added to meet the octane requirment batch by batch, 100LL alwas had lead but much less than allowed, hence the rapid adoption and aproval of 100VLL, it was allready being sold as 100LL. There was no major cost issue with the FBO's stocking two tpes of avgas up untill the demise of the grade 80 around 1999, BP still produces it in the U.K. by the way. Therfore a simple partial solution is to market an uleaded premium autogas as others have sugested, or the FAA approved 94UL that is not produced;(basicly the 100LL base stock with out the tet. lead). Marathon provides the eastern states with nonethanol gasoline marketed as "Recriational" in 90 and 91 MON octane. Cost is alittle more than premium car gas but often about $1.00 less than avgas.

Has anyone looked at or tested Auto Racing fuels? They have plenty of octane rating , they are unleaded and I believe they can be found without ethanol from all of the various manufacturers. The cost benefit is probably minimal if any but there is little doubt that they will handle the performance requirements of an aircraft engine. I am no subject matter expert by any means but they seem like a viable alternative.

The problem with using racing fuels is that they are more expensive than 100LL. At the airport where I learned to fly, the operator, at one time, had several customers that would buy avgas to run their race cars because it was cheaper than using racing fuels.

Someone has to come up with a substitute for 100LL, there are to many high performance engines to simply do away with it. Otherwise these aircraft would be grounded.. Do we really know for a fact that 100LL causes health issues? Perhaps the current administration just wants to get rid of GA.

High performance aircraft only effected by the lead issue in 100LL....please many of you sound like its only the big guys with high flying fast aircraft that are effected by this. My plane is a 105 to 110 KIAS aircraft with a Lycomming O-320 engine...certainly not my idea of "HIGH PERFORMANCE." But my aircraft has no STC allowing auto gas and the "HIGH COMPRESSION" engine it does have would destroy itself if pre-detination occurs or simply quit if vapor lock occurs. These test fuels need to accommodate 100% of general aviation needs, not just those with low compression engines.

I am glad that South Carolina alowes the sale of unethenol gas at auto service stations, and the cost is only about $0.30 a gallon higher that the E-10 auto fuel. I have herd that some airports have installed selfservice pumps to supply the unethenol auto fuel. At my home base we have to use the red containers to transport the fuel.

Many people do not understand what lead does for your engine. In addition to aiding the combustion to take place at a slower pace the lead acts as a lubricant and protects many engine parts from rust/corrosion. Yes, it can csuse fouled plugs, but you can prevent that as you operate your engine. At power settings below 1000 to 1200 RPM the lead is not consumed and sent out the exhaust. It is liquid and will run down into the bottom plugs when the engine is shut down. To prevent this run your engine up to 1800 RPM for 20 seconds, then pull it back to 1100 RPM and pull the mixture. No more fouled plugs!
Bill Brown

Lycoming have issued a Service Instruction, 1070R which addresses the suitability of unleaded fuels in various Lycoming engines. ...At least, it would address the issue if it was more clearly laid out and not an exercise in cryptography.

Essentially, as I read it, anything less than 8.5-1 compression ratio is gonna be OK for unleaded but ethanol or alchohol is only fit for drinking, keep it out of your tank!

Previous commenters have pointed out that mogas/autofuel goes off after 3 weeks...make that 2 weeks to be on the safe side, ethanol or not.

So, lead is really bad eh? Unleaded fuels are often rich in benzene which is 20 times more toxic than lead.

About time somebody pointed this out to the enviro-loonies so they can go chase their tails over that one, might take the pressure off lead.

Lead:- don't drink it, don't rub it in.