July 27, 2010
In an effort to calm rising fears over the apparent lack of discernible progress on finding a replacement for 100LL, leaders of all the major alphabets held a fuel forum at AirVenture on Tuesday that produced this overarching message: Aircraft owners and operators shouldn't panic about the future lack of a 100LL replacement just yet, but they reiterated that the challenge of finding an avgas replacement is complex and won't be solved quickly. Jim Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, told the group of reporters, manufacturers and industry representatives that the simple truth is that political and regulatory issues impact the availability of fuel across all markets and aviation is tiny speck of the big picture. "This is not the time for us to panic," Coyne said, "but we also can't stick our heads the sand, either." Coyne owns a Baron with a pair of IO-520s and says he's fully confident fuel will be available for his aircraft and that he wouldn't hesitate to invest in the overhauls.
On the other hand, the panel heard direct concerns from people who don't share Coyne's sanguine view of future fuel availability. Although members of the industry's future fuel committee continue to insist that octane is only one consideration in the development of a new fuel, owners and operators show signs of believing it's the most important consideration. Curt Sanford, a member of the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association, bluntly told the panel that 94-octane is simply too low and the fact that it has even been under consideration has created "a lot of anxiety" in the market. More push came from Jon Sisk, a member of the Clean 100-Octane Coalition, a recently formed group that's buttonholing the alphabets and FAA to at least agree that 100-octane or the equivalent performance ought to at least be the stated goal.
AOPA's Craig Fuller, who has recently taken a more visible role in talking about avgas, said although the association hasn't necessarily reported in detail about its activities in massaging the regulatory process, it is pushing on smoothing the regulatory barriers stacked against approving new fuels, including an STC application that General Aviation Modifications Inc. has requested for its developmental G100UL. "Let's go forward with that and let's see what we can learn from the process," Fuller said.
The FAA's Mark Rumizen, an official in the agency's Engine and Propellor Directorate, told the fuel panel that the FAA has now agreed in principle that STCs can be used as one means to fast track fuels research. It's unclear exactly how quickly that will translate into an approved STC. However, Rumizen and others in the fuel research arena insist that new fuels will still need to wind their way through the sometimes cumbersome ASTM International. At a meeting last month in Kansas City, ASTM got the message that it needs to accelerate its deliberations.