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Unleaded aviation fuels advance to aircraft and engine testing

The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) is applauding the completion of the first step in the development and evaluation of high-octane, unleaded aviation fuels designed to serve the widest possible majority of today's general aviation fleet, and is pledging continued support and leadership for FAA's Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI).

The FAA today announced that fuel formulations from Shell and Swift have been selected to advance to Phase 2 engine and aircraft testing that will begin this summer and continue through 2018. The PAFI government-industry partnership is facilitating the development and deployment of a new unleaded aviation fuel that can be readily available to the GA fleet in the future. EAA has played a leadership role in that partnership, helping to bring together diverse elements of the GA community and the petroleum industry, as well as environmental and aviation regulators, while keeping the process mindful of the needs of EAA's membership and the GA fleet.

“This is an important first step in the ongoing effort to find a technically and economically viable high-octane unleaded fuel for aviation, a step made possible by the dedicated work of people throughout the FAA, and the aviation and fuel industries,” said Jack Pelton, EAA CEO and chairman. “EAA is committed to this process, which focuses on thorough evaluation and testing to bring forth the best solution to a vastly complicated technical and economic challenge. The long-term viability of the existing GA fleet and future of the marketplace depends on the success of this program. EAA will continue to invest heavily in advancing this effort to its best possible conclusion.”

Phase 2 test data from the two fuels will help the companies obtain an ASTM International production specification for their fuels and allow the FAA to authorize use of fuel in the existing GA fleet to the maximum extent possible. General aviation is the last remaining significant user of leaded fuel, with small levels of lead necessary to create the very high octane required by high-performance piston aircraft. 

Congress appropriated $7 million for the fiscal year 2016 budget to support the PAFI test program at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center. That allowed continuing work that began in June 2013 when the FAA requested fuel producers to submit their replacement fuel proposals to the FAA for evaluation. By July 2014, the FAA received 17 formulations from six companies and assessed candidate fuels in terms of their impact on the existing fleet, the production and distribution infrastructure, the impact on the environment, toxicology, and the cost of aircraft operations. In September 2014, the FAA accepted four fuel formulations into the PAFI Phase 1 test program: two from Swift Fuels, as well as one each from Shell and TOTAL. Two of those fuels have been identified as the best candidates to move forward in the PAFI process.

In addition to environmental pressure to eliminate lead from aviation fuels, the eradication of tetra-ethyl lead from motor fuels worldwide has reduced its demand to the point that the long-term availability of the additive has been in question. A high-octane unleaded alternative to 100 low-lead avgas is necessary to ensure the long-term viability of GA.

“EAA has always maintained that any unleaded aviation fuel must be safe, economically viable, and satisfy as much of the existing GA fleet as technically possible,” Pelton said. “The PAFI program allows the GA community to create its own future rather than having it dictated to us on potentially impossible or economically disastrous terms and timeframes. The scale and scope of the technical challenges associated with this program are daunting, but EAA believes that by mobilizing the full force and talent of the aviation and petroleum industries working side-by-side with aviation and environmental regulators, the GA community stands the best possible chance of having a bright and secure future.”

Press release issued by Experimental Aircraft Association - EAA on March 29, 2016


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