Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose, California, is in the news with an announcement Monday that its based aircraft will now be “switching to unleaded fuel after years of demands.” That revelation, following some high-profile reporting on lead contamination around the airport over the past few months, is one piece in a complex quilt of news related to unleaded avgas.
At an EAA AirVenture press conference last month, Swift Fuels President Chris D’Acosta told reporters that, as a result of ramped up distribution efforts, his certified 94UL unleaded avgas would soon be available at several new airports in northern and southern California for a total of 47 locations in the state. Reid-Hillview Airport is on the list of new outlets for the fuel (presumably resulting in Monday’s announcement), which is approved for around 66 percent of piston aircraft (several high-performance engines are not eligible, though Swift is developing its 100R blend that it expects will bridge that gap).
Days before Swift’s AirVenture press conference, Oklahoma-based General Aviation Modifications Inc. (GAMI) announced long-awaited STCs for its G100UL high-octane unleaded fuel, with management from distributor Avfuel looking on at the press conference as a partner in the effort. G100UL is ultimately expected to be approved for virtually all GA engines. The fuel has been in development for around a decade, and the reason for this summer’s logjam-busting approval from the FAA was not exactly clear. GA advocacy groups have been pressing for unleaded avgas for years, as it has shown itself to run cleaner, extend engine life, and improve performance.
The announcement seems like good news for supporters of Reid-Hillview, which local groups have been trying to shut down for a number of reasons. Lead contamination has been one rallying cry for airport opponents, though according to a San Jose Spotlight review, “elevated blood lead levels found in the local study are consistent with the state average and neighboring counties. Out of 17,000 blood samples, only 1.7 percent show lead levels that call for further testing. The statewide average of children who meet the same criteria is 1.5 percent.” Average lead levels for children under 18 in the airport area are less than half of what the Centers for Disease Control considers “elevated” and around 1/20th of those for which the CDC suggests medical intervention is warranted.
Airport supporters and other skeptics believe the stronger motivation for closing Reid-Hillview is economic, be it repurposing the airport property with low-income housing, business development or other non-aviation use.