Citizens Group Targets EAGLE Co-Chair And NATA Head Castagna

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An organization known as SoCalSFV (Southern California San Fernando Valley) contacted AVweb in advance of concurrent anti-general-aviation protests it had planned for Van Nuys Airport (KVNY) and Long Beach Airport (KLGB) today (May 16). According to the letter, the protests are focused on National Air Transportation Association President and CEO Curt Castagna, who also heads up the Van Nuys and Long Beach airport associations, for what SoCalSFV describes as deliberate efforts to obstruct the distribution of General Aviation Modifications Inc.’s (GAMI’s) high-octane G100UL unleaded aviation gasoline. Castagna also serves as a co-chair of the joint FAA/industry Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions (EAGLE) program.

The SoCalSFV letter said, “NATA falsely claims that a cleaner alternative fuel, GAMI’s G100UL, is not commercially available, [and is] effectively working to obstruct its distribution.” The letter cites the fact that G100UL has been granted an FAA Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for virtually all piston aircraft engines and is therefore “commercially available.” According to the letter, “The #1 goal, on FAA’s website is ‘to identify at least one unleaded fuel acceptable for safe General Aviation fleet use.’ The FAA did that when they issued STCs for GAMI G100UL.”

AVweb spoke at length with Castagna, who acknowledged the issue is complicated and confusing. He said that there is a difference between the FAA approving the use of a fuel and approving the fuel itself. “The FAA’s responsibility stops at the wing of the airplane,” he said, meaning that the FAA STC does not take into account “other industry stakeholders” such as fuel suppliers, distributors, transporters, engine and component manufacturers, and FBOs that store and pump the fuel. He said issues of risk mitigation and liability protection for those other stakeholders are not addressed by the STC, nor are they required to be.

“The STC for G100UL is a good start,” he said. “And there is nothing stopping an airport or an FBO from making G100UL available. However, anyone making this choice will have to make their own decision on [liability] risk tolerance, since the FAA is not providing indemnity or risk protection through their STC approval.”

He also noted that the FAA STC did not explore mixing G100UL with 100LL or with Swift Fuels 94UL, not only in aircraft fuel tanks, but also in tank trucks and airport fuel farms, though GAMI maintains the fuels are fully mixable and fungible.

Castagna said, “There is a lot of discussion within the industry on what ‘commercially available’ means.” He also noted that the FAA Reauthorization Bill passed yesterday specified that availability of 100LL would be protected until 2030. The challenge, he said, is not only identifying a replacement fuel that all industry stakeholders can be assured is safe, but how best to make the complicated transition in an economically and operationally expedient way.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

39 COMMENTS

    • This whole unleaded fuel debacle has gone off the rails. At this point it’s nothing but a dumpster fire. A 40 yarder at that.

  1. He’s a very plugged-in guy in SoCal & Dallas Love Field Airport development per his official bio https://docs.house.gov/meetings/PW/PW05/20230309/115435/HHRG-118-PW05-Bio-CastagnaC-20230309.pdf

    I’m a little surprised he’s taken a role as a tetraethyl lead champion, since it makes him a lightning rod that may draw negative attention to his Jet-A burning and airport real-estate development constituency. He’s been around the pattern quite a few times, so he probably thinks he knows what he signed up for. If it doesn’t go well, at least everyone involved knows who the fall guy will be 🫣

  2. Calling the opposition a bunch of names is really going to help, ya think? In case you did not read the article, the group is in the San Fernando Valley, Long Beach and Van Nuys. That is not the low rent district. Claiming an exemption because you are entitled and only a small part of the problem is not going to help. This should have been fixed decades ago by removing lead, just like the poor folks had to do. The old 172 would run on any reasonable fuel if you just take the water out. Hotter stuff would have to take a small hit in performance because the octane numbers would be lower and the engine designed to accommodate that. Far better than making GA look like the bad guys. Now look what we are stuck with. And Trump and his merry band have done all they can to make themselves unpopular among the educated classes along the coast. It is not the uneducated who oppose lead uses everywhere.

    • The protesters might or might not be educated but they are certainly ill-informed. Just as Skygypsy wrote, the research showed that lead from GA aircraft wasn’t a threat to anyone. It’s just a convenient bogeyman for anti-GA protesters, many of whom will no doubt cheer when a pilot and passengers die in a crash caused by engine failure from one of these new fuels.

    • Me thinks that you’re a protestor infiltrating this discussion because clearly you don’t have a clue about the realities Mr Kenneth Holden. Perhaps get yourself a few decades of knowledge about the real issues involved in just ‘removing the lead’ for these unique engines with their unique challenges and then understand what risk really means in aviation and then perhaps you’d be able to contribute something worth anybody reading rather than just mindless drivel.

      • It appears that it was you, Skygypsy, who precipitated the descent into “mindless drivel” with your initial comment that unnecessarily brought name-calling and partisan politics into what should be a technical discussion. “The fault, dear Skygypsy, is not in our stars…”

        • Another professional ‘anti-everything’ protestor with nothing to contribute…. good on ya ‘blowin’ !!

    • GAMI would dispute that, claiming instead that Continental was provided several drums of G100UL years ago for testing. When years had passed with no testing done at all they returned the fuel to GAMI.

    • Continental M-O manual Table 7-2 Authorized Fuels by Engine Model does not include G100UL. CMTechnical said using G100UL in a Continental engine is not authorized & would void the warranty!

      • Continental’s IO550’s data sheet states certified fuel grades are 100/100LL. If GAMI 100UL is 100 octane it should be covered. If one uses an electronic Mag in place of a stock magneto via STC does that void the warranty on their engines?
        How long is their warranty on their engines anyway? Most of the time their cylinders don’t make it to TBO anyway. They don’t cover that do they?

        • the warranty on my new IO-550 is 2 years. IO-550 certified fuel on type certificate 100/100LL, RH95/130, or B95/130. Current alternate authorization N/A.

  3. I am fortunate to have grown up in the 60’s and 70’s when aviation was fun and exciting. I am looking forward to retiring and not having to hear or deal with any of this nonsense.

  4. This is about chemistry and physics; not politics!
    Absolutely certain that neither of the presidential candidates know anything about it!
    Lead is not good for engines or people; lead was just a way to raise octane.
    Engines need octane, not a specific chemical compound.
    GAMI knows more about combustion and engines than just about anyone in the aviation industry.
    Manufacturers live in fear of lawyers; (a curse for any industry in the US);, so they are not going to move one inch to change anything.
    It is really hard to understand the footdragging on this whole issue; get it done!
    The noise on this issue reminds me of a certain person who was standing guard over his firewood with a shotgun on Y2K; while every normal person was out partying!

    • Manufacturers do not live in fear of lawyers, as you suggest. They live in fear of jury verdicts and loss of business. If Unleaded GAMI fuel is so great, then every GAMI fuel provider should provide legal and financial protection to the engine manufacturers and operators who might use the the stuff, assuming it doesn’t’ kill a bunch of pilots and passengers in the meantime.

  5. Some have decided to bring their level of education into this discussion but I would suggest that very few of us are actually educated enough on this subject to comment on it one way or the other. But I would listen to an aircraft mechanic or engine manufacturer over a Harvard grad any day. An STC usually requires showing the (whatever) does no harm. Do we need an STC to use the current fuels available stuffed into our log books? Not that I’m aware of. And, let’s not forget one University has gone on record saying that at least one of these UL fuels (STC approved Swift fuel) did in fact harm their engines and discontinued its use. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in court with the Harvard’s vs the Dakotas.

    IMHO, the GAMI folks are simply attempting to siphon off a few pennies from every gallon burned in an aircraft. Not to mention the piece of paper they will gladly sell you that allows you to use their product. I can’t imagine they somehow concocted some magic potion to make this issue go away. At least not something the major fuel companies couldn’t repeat. The last thing GA needs is another entity increasing the cost of operating an aircraft. And at this point, it’s my opinion the GAMI folks have just added fuel to the fire. And Mr. Castagna finds himself defending all of us in this issue. I wonder what side we’ll find the GAMI folks when it comes to trial?

  6. It seems NATA has found a loophole to gum the whole works.

    There are a lot of ways to increase octane without adding lead. GAMI tested a bunch and found one that works for aircraft engine’s high octane needs. It likely has a revised refining process and a different mix of non-lead additives than 100LL.

    Somehow the auto fuel industry figured out how to safety store and dispense unleaded fuel. My 1972 Grumman had an auto fuel STC. Rural airports still store and dispense non-ethanol auto fuel to pilots. (Many years ago I lobbied the State of Minnesota to allow this carve-out).

    I get the feeling that either the fuel distributers are looking for someone else to foot the bill for the needed research, or stalling until some refinery they’re supporting finally comes up with a fuel that allows them to make more money.

  7. I suggest you all read to manifesto of the SoCalSFV. It’s downright scary. They are scare mongers attempting to stop general aviation. Unleaded fuel is only part of their intentions. They would stop all air traffic that isn’t airline operated. General Aviation needs to rally against whoever is leading this group.

  8. The STC may be approved by the FAA but the aircraft owner must purchase the STC from GAMI then follow the instructions (for lack of a better word ‘to install’) the STC. Based on the comments from the unleaded gas articles i have read, not all aircraft owners will ‘install’ the STC. Without the STC, it is illegal to run G100UL in your aircraft. That means that any airport that wants to sell G100UL will most likely need to install another fuel storage and pumping system so they have 100LL and G100UL available. Dropping 100LL at this point would mean the airport would miss out on a majority of GA fuel (100LL) sales.
    One other thing that I have not seen addressed; How much fuel can GAMI produce? I read they have 1 million gallons which makes it “commercially available”. According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2020, US aviation gasoline sales/deliveries were just under 500,000 gallons per DAY. That means that GAMI currently can provide fuel to the General aviation fleet under 3 days.

    • The airport/FBO fuel-storage dilemma is one of the several complications that Cafagna discussed. The overlap between keeping 100LL available while introducing whatever drop-in replacement fuel(s) win(s) the day is problematic and not a simple fix.

  9. Brought to you by the modern “educated” Liberal who was taught at the very least, at 18 years old to protest anything group think demands.

    • And your “group think” comment… I guess it’s OK since it criticizes liberals (conservative group think good, liberal groupthink bad, right?). At least your utterly irrelevant dog-whistle comment was short.

  10. There are two key quotes by Castanga in the story: 1.“The FAA’s responsibility stops at the wing of the airplane,” 2. “The STC for G100UL is a good start,” he said. “And there is nothing stopping an airport or an FBO from making G100UL available. However, anyone making this choice will have to make their own decision on [liability] risk tolerance, since the FAA is not providing indemnity or risk protection through their STC approval.”

    On one hand he correctly states the FAA’s responsibility is to deal with the aircraft type certificate (stops at the wing), and the STC process is the only legal avenue to do that unless the manufacturer chooses to expand the list of fuels authorized for their aircraft. He then turns around and implies that for 100LL the FAA provides some type of indemnity / risk protection to FBOs for selling that fuel that is not available for G100UL, SWIFT94UL, or whatever else PAFI/EAGLE comes up with. Until the FAA explains their path for a blanket amendment to every type certificate for every gasoline-based piston powered aircraft to use UL fuel as a direct replacement for 100LL, the EAGLE vs GAMI debate is rather pointless. My guess is that at the end of the day, the EGALE fuel(s) will be approved for use under the STC regulations in the same manner that GAMI has already been through.

  11. It’s funny to watch the anti–100LL group fighting over which replacement is better or worse.

    Here are two products–both of which eliminate the “dreaded lead”–GAMI played by the rules and spent its own money to come up with a product that was universally approved by the FAA. Now the ASTM group (that seem to have NO in-house expertise or experience in certifying aviation fuel) are trying to block it to “save” us with lawyerly “it didn’t pass our test” whining (never mind that they had no basis or findings for the tests itself).

    And they wonder why they aren’t taken seriously! We sell non-ethanol auto fuel at our FBO in Minnesota to anyone with an STC–and will continue to do so until the “do-good” lawyers sort this out (and that may take some time!). In the meantime–pilots are forced to use the very thing that the new fuels that the do-gooder ASTM proponents purport to eliminate–LEAD. I guess it shows that they are more interested in protecting their pocketbook than they are about protecting health.

    • Again, I would mention an STC is not a patent and offers no protection from anybody else to reproduce what it covers. Aviation is littered with similar STCs involving the exact same products. And that being the case, any fuel provider could use the same formula as GAMI or Spirit if they so choosed. In that case the $600 STC piece of paper would not be required of any aircraft owner. As present day fuels are, it would be universally approved by the FAA and engine manufacturerers thorugh the same processes we’ve lived with all along.

      As it is so often mentioned, an FBO is free to install the necessary equipment to supply the product to those that choose to pay for the current STCs. For that FBO, likely in the neighborhood of fifty or sixty grand and then sign on to a single supplier to fill those tanks from where ever the product is produced. I have no idea where GAMI or Spirit has their million gallons stored, but I can accurately assumed it’s not on any ramp I might be using.

      I would also be skeptical as the chain of posession the FAA requires in virtually the entire industry and who would be responsible. Can GAMI or Spirit gaurantee purity all of the way to the dispenser? Or even to the FBO for that matter? Just how far would there products be transported and what is the cost of that? This process goes far beyound a simple peice of paper saying you can burn it. Just remember, if those fuels do cause you a bad day, the litigation attorneys will be looking into you checking account long before GAMIs or Spirits.

      I have no issues with either GAMI or Spirit but they are the ones that muddied the water and put us where we are at today. They are the ones lookiing to cash in, not the major fuel companies. The FAA certainly didn’t do their job with haphazardly issued STCs for a product that is universally required. Perhaps the simplist solution is to stop selling leaded fuel and adjust the TBOs of engines to account for any loss of engine life that may occur. Few aircraft engines make TBO anyway without some sort of cylinder issues.

      • I’d say it was the FAA that muddled all this. A half century of irresponsible careerism got us here, and is keeping us here.

    • Yes, the refiners are assuming liability with their distributors.. Look at the Watsonvillle mis-fueling incident, where Jet A got mixed into 100LL truck/tanks and they replaced 40+ engines of planes that visited the airport for the Fly-in…

  12. Folks complaining about the “ASTM Group” should actually look into the testing that is required and that Swift has actually performed. Has anyone commenting here seen the results of any inter-mixing tests or an exhaustive list of sealants and plastics and other compounds that are not impacted by GAMI’s secret formula? Answer is nobody has… And until Phillips and Chevron and other major refiners say they are comfortable brewing it and selling it across North America, it isn’t commercially available.. NATA members aren’t going to assume the risk of downstream accidents and lawsuits without either more confidence in the product or deep-pocketed indemnities. George may understand octane testing, but doesn’t have deep pockets. A mis-fueling situation cost Chevron tens of $ Millions in Calif years ago and the only damage was harm to a handful of engines – no injuries or fatalities. A handful of fatalities or injuries could run into hundreds of $millions.. Assuming Swift receives their ASTM spec approval and STC/AML this year, which formula do you think the refiners are going to look at more favorably? and And for those so eager to see GAMI mandated, remember the price might be an extra couple dollars per gallon..

  13. “He also noted that the FAA STC did not explore mixing G100UL with 100LL”

    What a bunch of hooey. GAMI’s *definition* of G100UL is that it is any combination of their fuel with 100LL. Any percentage of either (other than 0% of the GAMI fuel) is considered G100UL and is approved under the STC.

    • So I guess an owner could run out and buy a gallon of GAMI and use an eyedropper to get the mix he needs to be legal? Now that’s a bunch of hooey. Gosh, I wonder why some big oil company hasn’t jumped on that opportunity yet.

    • You sound like a Gami guy in disguise…. publish all of your test data and publish WHICH composition you used for WHICH testing, and also show us how you determined that any mix of 100LL and G100Ul works as you go through to LOP and how some of these mixes avoid detonation in certain engines, and how you determined that all the engines will happily go to TBO solely on G100UL and also on various troublesome % mixes.

    • arrrrrrrrrrr… no. Sorry, you clearly know nothing about these engines and the reason that is not possible. Do you think it is that easy…..? If it was it’d have been done, but it’s simply not.

  14. Who is this “citizen group”, who funds them, and what is their real agenda?

    That’s what we ought to be discussing? The FAA got us here, and is still foot dragging. I guess they are hoping to get rid of certified piston GA?

    Who here doesn’t think the FAA is the most responsible for this problem, and why?

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