The future of avgas has been a hot topic for decades, with predictions of “the end of 100LL” coming every few years. But lately there has been a renewed urgency about the subject, especially as environmental groups and the EPA have turned up the heat.
To address the uncertainty surrounding avgas, the FAA convened the 100LL Unleaded Avgas Transition-Aviation Rulemaking Committee (UAT-ARC in FAA jargon) in January 2011, a team made up of AOPA, engine manufacturers, the EPA, the FAA and others. The goal of the UAT-ARC was “to recommend an FAA administered process by which any candidate replacement for 100LL avgas could be tested and evaluated for possible certification…It is very important to understand the UAT‐ARC was not chartered to evaluate candidates, or to pick a winner.”
The group recently released its full report. Read the summary here from the Clean 100 Octane Coalition, the full report here and the appendices here. It is difficult reading, but some of the highlights of the report include:
- “An unleaded replacement fuel that meets the needs of the entire fleet does not currently exist.” So a new fuel is needed and a new way to test and approve this fuel must be developed.
- This transition will not happen overnight. The group estimates it will take 11 years and cost as much as $73 million to find a long-term replacement for 100LL.
- The group makes clear that they do not see an immediate threat to the availability of 100LL. While a long-term transition plan is needed, a steady supply of avgas is expected for at least the next 5 years.
- Many aircraft could run today on lower octane unleaded fuel with little or no modifications. However, higher compression engines (found in Cirrus, Bonanzas, twins, etc.) could not. These higher performance airplanes fly the majority of hours, so this is the major issue.
- The report makes various recommendations for a deliberate plan to be enacted and shared with the public (the Fuel Development Roadmap–Avgas Readiness Levels).
- The lead parties would be ASTM (who would create the specs for a new high octane, unleaded fuel) and FAA (who would conduct much of the testing at their Hughes Testing Facility).
- There is a preference for a new fuel that uses ASTM standards to qualify, and not to use the STC process (as some companies are pursuing).
- The ARC recommends the creation of a Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI), a new industry-government group to shepherd the process along.
The report got a positive reception from most aviation organizations, who praised it as an important first step in a long and complicated process. While it certainly does not identify a solution, at least it begins to define some of the steps that must take place. But not all pilots are happy with this report–the Malibu-Mirage Owners and Pilots Association says we should be skeptical.
What’s your opinion on the future of 100LL? Are you worried it might disappear? Would it effect your decision to buy a new airplane? Is enough being done to address this issue or is the panic overblown?