Livermore, California, Mandates Providing Unleaded Fuel At Its Airport


The city council of Livermore, California, has approved a resolution that would require the FBO at the city-owned airport to provide unleaded fuel within 24 months. According to a story in local online news outlet Pleasanton Weekly, the resolution amends the airport’s “minimum standards for commercial aeronautical activities” with the new requirement to make unleaded fuel available.

Peter Sandhu, owner and CEO of Five Rivers Aviation at Livermore, told AVweb the ruling is driven by “a very small, vocal group” of local citizens that he believes were emboldened by the situation at nearby Reid-Hillview Airport, where local government has mandated banning the sale of leaded 100LL fuel. But the Livermore City Council ruling does not ban the sale of 100LL. It simply cites the requirement to make unleaded aviation fuel available. And it also leaves an opening for extending the 24-month deadline if a suitable unleaded fuel is not readily available at that time. That leaves Sandhu with some interesting options.

“I have a 1,000-gallon fuel tank that I could use to supply unleaded fuel,” he said, “and [Swift] 94UL is easy to get. The tank meets or exceeds all the applicable standards, but because it was not manufactured by one of the four companies on the ‘approved’ list, I have not been able to get it approved by the city. It’s hooked up and ready to go, so, ironically, this ruling could work in my favor.”

But Sandhu said he is skeptical of the return on investment in providing an unleaded fuel option, even with a large contingent of homebuilts and other sport aircraft at his airport—aircraft that can safely use lower-octane 94UL (as opposed to higher-powered aircraft that need more octane). He cited the example of nearby Watsonville Airport, where 94UL is available (at a price differential of about 70 cents above 100LL) but constitutes only about 10 percent of fuel sales. If the ratio were applied to Livermore, that would amount to about 80 gallons per day.

Still, he realizes that the long-term benefits are potentially attractive. Even with the uncertainty of how the transition to unleaded avgas will shake out, dipping a toe in the UL pool at this stage would be relatively inexpensive for his business—about $18,000 in fees and permits for the tank. If Swift 94UL were to lose out to another candidate for ASTM fleet-wide approval, switching suppliers would be seamless.

The same would be true if he stocked the tank with GAMI’s G100UL high-octane unleaded fuel, available with a still-controversial Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) and at an octane level required for aircraft responsible for 70% of the fuel consumption in the piston GA fleet (including Sandhu’s Piper Malibu). If G100UL doesn’t make the commercial cut, Five Rivers could switch suppliers with its next order.

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.


  1. This should prove interesting. They have a lot of home built and light sport aircraft, but those types generally have the smaller fuel tanks. As well as not being flown as much as the bigger aircraft are.

    But the keywords are return on the investment. Having and providing the fuel is one thing. If it’s going to be used, and profitable, remains to be seen.

  2. The best solution for pilots fed up with over-regulation of everything in Mexifornia: leave. We welcome all sport aviators from the Left Coast here in North Carolina, provided you don’t try to “California” our sovereign conservative South.

  3. Such a bunch of nonsense. I suspect a lot of these ‘citizens’ have no technical expertise, and nothing better to do than bang their pots and pans, wave their banners, and chant for the environment. If the city council is anything like the one where I live, their greatest skill will be hearing themselves talk. My dad was exposed to just about everything you can imagine and lived to 94. Unleaded fuel will not prevent you from getting sick if that’s your destiny. I’m afraid there a much higher risk factors on the scale.

  4. It would be nice to remove lead fouling from the long list of aircraft ownership concerns. Are there widespread occurrences of documented lead poisoning in the neighborhoods under the flightpath of busy GA airports that aren’t being reported anywhere? Asking for a friend.

  5. While it is desirable to move to unleaded avfuels for many reasons, public health issues due to aviation ops are not among them as there is no substantive evidence of it. At this time there is no viable, widely available unleaded avfuel that can serve the full aviation community. Forcing airports to install costly infrasfructure to carry a second (unleaded) fuel may prove economically unsustainable for airport operators. If the FAA stops dragging its feet, we can move toward and unleaded fuel solution that can serve the whole community. Until then, please everyone hold their horses instead of making life more difficult for airport and airplane operators.

  6. It sounds to me like MOGAS meets the requirement as described above and its available at several airports I frequent. None of the exotic fuels listed above need apply.

    • Finding non-oxygenated (with ethanol) mogas is the issue. Another is the volume to pump per month. Mogas without some stabilizer additive is chemically unstable and starts to self-react within a short period of time. Not important really in our 4-wheeled conveyances that get used regularly, but, with low-usage engines (what’s the average use of the GA fleet? 25-50 hours a year maybe?) like ours in our spam cans, what you have three months after filling up is not necessarily the same chemical soup that you put in. Varnishing and cleanliness (how many of us have gas line filters (not gascolators, they’re just there to separate the water out, not filter the crud) in our planes?) of the fuel is another issue.

      Yeah, I know that folks bring jerry cans of mogas to the field and fill their tanks from the local gas station…but the QC of what they pump is vastly different, let alone the standards the fuel has to meet, than what comes out of the 100LL tankage at the field, which the replacement brew, whichever one gets the green light, will have to meet.

      IMHO, it’s a political decision. Look at who the players are lining up behind, and that will tell you who stands to benefit. GAMI seemingly was first to the gate, but didn’t include the alphabet orgs and bureaucracies in the process, so you can bet that this also plays into whatever decision eventually makes it to the widespread distribution chain. Just my $.02.

  7. I wouldn’t mind so much but when I saw, let’s say, “the area of concern” for Reid’s-Hillview Airport, it was merely a circle with it’s center right in the middle of the airport property. I guess the wind blows in all directions equally over time. I want to remember that blood testing showed no difference in lead levels inside or outside this circle. That was interesting.

    I remember when all cars used lead, waiting at stop signs, waiting at signal lights, waiting in parking lots and I don’t recall people falling ill. Now, it’s down to some 150,000 airplanes or so that not used like tens of millions of cars plying the streets. A 100 hours a year is lot for the private owner. Flight and rentals can be much, much more, though. (Do they all fly only the pattern for hundreds of hours a year?)

    Lead poisoning is real but it seems that aviation is a lot different than chewing lead-based paint. I hope the new unleaded fuels don’t present headaches like MTBE did in California. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

    • As a kid growing up in the early 50’s before the advent of big box hardware stores, I clearly remember my Father giving me a glass gallon jug and telling me to slog over to the local hardware store to get some benzene. He used it as a degreaser mostly … but we cleaned our hands with it, too. I’m a septuagenarian now and am still waiting for my second head to appear. Lead poisoning from the exhaust of GA airplanes is not an issue … it’s a guise for the bigger scams of climate change, et al. I’d be willing to bet that deep behind this issue, there’s a real estate developer or two just pushing, pushing and pushing so they can develop the airport property?

      At the Portage airport, WI (C47), the Combined Council recently held a meeting where they THOUGHT they’d steamroll the airport users and community at large to close their airport which is located adjacent to I-39 in a perfect location. 100% of the numerous speakers and others who emailed were vociferously against that move. Watching the proceedings online, it was obvious they weren’t ready for that response. So, what did they do … come up with a reason to table the issue until January … when I suppose they think no one will notice during winter weather. These numbskull politicians need to be stopped and run out of towns. The aviation community needs to band together — just like many others — to fight them. THIS issue is merely the camel sticking its nose under the tent but … BEWARE!

  8. “…making life more difficult for airport and airplane operators.”

    I suspect many of these local agitators’ ultimate aim is the elimination of all aviation activity. If not lead as the driving issue, it will be the noise, accidents, lax security, the Russians, chem trails, damage to the space-time continuum from use of warp drive — whatever.

  9. Everyone is so pushy about this small amount of lead ,while my home town has miles of lead water pipes. Most eastern cities’ are the same. I grew up in a house with lead pipes all the way to the taps. It might be wise for the industry to ask these municipalities if they have themselves gotten rid of lead pipes. I am all for finally getting the lead out, but not in favor of Govt. pushing blame on others. Our fed govt. should not be pushing this if they fail other lead issues.

  10. A couple of things…

    First, the Biden administration just announced a program to eliminate lead water pipes. Yes, it is a good idea.

    Second, lead is a poison, no matter what pilots think. as a doctor who specializes in occupational and environmental hazards, I have been treating adults poisoned by lead for 40 years. No, none of them got poisoned by living near an airport.

    Despite the fact that overt cases of lead poisoning don’t occur around airports doesn’t mean there is no harm. The developing fetus and young children are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead on the development of the nervous system and they are affected at levels way below those harmful to adults. This is a fact and not a lie told to doom general aviation. It is acknowledged by everyone who doesn’t have a vested interest in the continued production of lead.

    I have never seen an industry that produces or uses lead-based products that did not poison the workers in that industry. Sooner or later, tetraethyl lead will not be available because its production will be regulated to the point that it is not economically viable. Still not a plot to end general aviation, BTW.

    Finally, the fact that not every person who handles a dangerous product gets sick doesn’t mean that dangerous products are safe. We all probably believe that smoking causes cancer. Remarkably, nine out of ten smokers don’t get cancer. That doesn’t mean that Phillip Morris was right.

    I don’t live in California and I own two airplanes. Lead is a poison no matter how many times you say it ain’t. Claiming that the harm from our use of lead is so small that you are willing to accept it doesn’t mean that everyone else wants to accept it. The battle to defend the safety of lead is a losing battle. Funny how not one comment mentions the fact that the aviation industry, despite having the writing on the wall for decades, still has no widely-available fuel for use in the GA fleet. I don’t think all those Californians are the culprit.

    • Every element in the table can either be poisonous or deadly.
      People willing to ban the natural elements (and even the natural gasses produced by life itself) are extremists.

      The fact that cases of lead poisoning don’t occur around airports does mean that associated risks of from aviation fuel is nil. Poisonings and harm are from OTHER sources that DO need to be addressed.

      • “Every element in the table can either be poisonous or deadly.”

        C’mon, that’s bullshit. Yes, every element can be deadly in some edge cases, but not necessarily be poisonous. And it is the poisonous factor that counts.

        Consider CO vs CO2 (yes, compounds, not elements but so?) Either one can kill you, but CO2 doesn’t build up in your blood the way that CO does. Fact is, lead affects you in ways that silver, steel, or copper doesn’t.

        “The fact that cases of lead poisoning don’t occur around airports”

        Can you produce a shred of evidence to show that lead poisoning does NOT occur around airports?

        • 1) Poisonous: Arsenic, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Mercury.
          2) I said life’s gasses, like methane and CO2. Both are, in fact, also being regulated to a goal of “zero”.
          3) I can find no news story of actual lead poisoning around airports, airport employees, or pilots. That is WHY people of concern need to address the MAJOR sources, not the theoretical ones.

      • IOW, you agree.

        Yes, lead is toxic. No, the amount in AvGas doesn’t seem to be a significant factor, or even measurable unless you hire a team to show it is rather than to find a repeatable test. At least not that I’ve seen.

        Also, there’s an acceptable level of arsenic in municipal drinking water.

        Poisonous actually is a matter of dose, that’s actual science.

  11. I am shocked – and happy – to see something happening in California in a reasonable and thoughtful way! They did not ban the old – that’s working – they merely took the opportunity to ensure that the new is there. That’s the smartest way to do this. I’m shocked this happened in California. Yay for them!

    That being said….

    While I agree wholeheartedly that the level of lead being dealt with here is so low as to be negligible, the time for arguing against the “fear people” is long since past. Right or wrong this is going to happen. No need to beat yourself up about it. You’ll have a much easier time living in the US if you just realize that government is all about the lowest common denominator and accept it. Science only counts if it supports that. Having been thoroughly trained for many years by our fine Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I am only worried how long it’s going to be before “environmentalists” begin railing against Radiation because walking outside results in exposure (on average 6 REM). I don’t even want to think those fear folks are going to do when they find out flying in an airliner is 35 REM. But as I said, arguing against the coming changes as the overreaction of incomplete examination is pointless and does nothing other than rile people up. We’ve already got plenty of that.

    Being right is fine, but being happy is better.

    Chill guys. The road will be a whole lot less difficult.

    • Bill, 6 REM, 35 REM? The average background radiation exposure level of 3.1 mSv (0.31 REM) per year is considered safe for the general population by international and national radiation safety organizations like NCRP, EPA, and WHO. Could you xplain?

  12. Los Angeles County faced substantial pollution challenges from the 1940s through the 1960s due to a surge in car usage and industrial growth, leading to the formation of harmful photochemical smog. I lived there during that time, and personal health issues prompted by poor air quality made me keenly aware of the severity of the problem. My eyes burned and my lungs hurt when exercising. Fortunately, significant improvements occurred through the implementation of fuel emission controls, mandatory car smog checks, industry pollution checks, and the prohibition of household trash burning.

    The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) played a crucial role in enforcing regulations to combat air pollution. Their measures, combined with a commitment to curbing environmentally harmful practices, significantly contributed to positive changes in air quality. Fortunately, these improvements were and remain tangible to date.

    Despite a rise in contemporary fuel consumption, Los Angeles now enjoys markedly cleaner air, showcasing a triumph for environmentalists and the success of cleaner technologies. The success story of Los Angeles reflects collaborative efforts among regulatory bodies, environmental agencies, and the public, highlighting how adherence to environmental laws and the adoption of cleaner technologies can tangibly enhance air quality. This success suggests that similar positive results could be achieved on a broader scale, even in national aviation.

    • “This success suggests that similar positive results could be achieved on a broader scale”

      Actually, probably not.
      L.A. was a unique geographic and weather basin.
      It was a local solution to a local weather phenomenon.
      Now the local problem in L.A. is unhealthy organic pollution in the streets, not in the air.

      • I agree. SoCal’s geography creates a natural pollution trap, facilitating severe smog and health issues. However, past and present environmental efforts, despite their limitations, have prevented things from getting worse.

        BTW: According to the 2022 “State of the Air” report, annual assessment of air quality in the United States published by the American Lung Association, 5.3 million Texans live in counties with failing grades for ozone pollution, making Texas the sixth-worst state in the nation for this pollutant. El Paso and Dallas were mentioned.

        On Street crap, anywhere, they are unacceptable and need urgent solutions other than signs warning not to step on it. It’s unacceptable. Somebody do somethin’!