A top U.S. House of Representatives Democrat wants the Obama administration to speed up its plans to remove the lead from fuel used by small aircraft, citing concerns with lead emissions – particularly at airports near populous areas.
The FAA, in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency, plans to test and certify an unleaded replacement fuel for general aviation aircraft by 2018. There currently is no replacement for leaded avgas.
But 2018 is not soon enough for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Waxman has penned a letter to FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta asking the FAA to accelerate its timetable, noting that leaded fuel from general aviation accounts for half of all U.S. lead air emissions. "It is essential for the FAA to develop and implement, in the near term, measures to facilitate the use of currently unavailable unleaded fuel in general aviation," he wrote.
The FAA did not address Waxman's request directly, but reiterated its dedication to making unleaded avgas available by 2018, "The FAA recognizes the importance of introducing an unleaded avgas that can be safely used by the piston-powered fleet, and is collaborating with industry to develop the best possible alternative to lead-containing avgas," read an agency statement.
Waxman wants the FAA to take "immediate steps to expand the use of currently available unleaded fuels," such as some kinds of high-octane automobile gasoline. He cited a study by the Aviation Fuel Club, a nonprofit group for sport aviators interested in unleaded fuel, saying the FAA has approved unleaded "autogas" or "mogas" in approx. 80 percent of piston aircraft currently operating.
In his letter, Waxman also notes that high-octane unleaded automotive and biodiesel fuel for piston engines has been used in Europe "for many years, but adoption in the United States has been slow." One of the sticking points: airports do not necessarily offer fuel alternatives onsite, which Waxman attributes to "lack of pilot education, uncertainty about liability coverage, and concerns about the supply of high-octane unleaded fuels that are ethanol free."