Santa Clara Airports Fight To Keep Leaded Gas Out

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Santa Clara County officials are pushing back against proposed legislation in the FAA reauthorization bills that would require them to reintroduce leaded aviation fuel. 

Calling it a “step backwards” for Santa Clara County airports, Local News Matters reported local officials are actively opposing two bills in the House and Senate. The Senate bill mandates airports to continue offering the same fuel types used since 2022 until 2030, or until a widely distributed alternative is available. Meanwhile, the House bill version, which has already passed, requires airports to sell the same fuels available as of 2018. Should Congress pass the legislation, these bills would overturn the county’s lead ban implemented in January 2022. 

While eliminating leaded aviation gasoline is a priority for GA advocates, it is clear stakeholders are urging caution until a viable alternative is available. However, several environmental activists are calling on local officials to follow Santa Clara County’s precedent and eliminate 100LL from their airports. This week, the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors planned to ask the county’s Federal Affairs Advocacy Task Force to explore strategies to protect the county’s authority to restrict the sale of leaded fuel, according to Local News Matters. 

For now, FAA reauthorization remains stalled. The House passed another reauthorization extension to fund the agency until March 8, 2024, while the Senate will need to vote on the legislation before funding expires at the end of the month.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

35 COMMENTS

  1. Santa Clara Airports Fight To Keep Leaded Gas Out: Reviewing demographics, it’s going to be interesting. An affluent fight in an affluent county

    Opposition to the ban comes from various groups, including:

    *General aviation industry
    *Some airport operators
    *Local businesses reliant on general aviation
    *Members of Congress from pro-general aviation districts
    *Individuals concerned about unleaded alternatives on safety and availability concerns.

  2. Basically it boils down to don’t bother us with facts. We know what we’re doing.

    California also won’t let diesel trucks made prior to 2007? enter and deliver anything. Since when did California set the rules on how the world operates?

    I know. Back in the 1960’s….

  3. Do California’s people know that the rest of the country laughs over their environmental insanity? My Southern town is full of California refugees these days, as are “Don’t California my state” stickers.

  4. There is an easy answer for county supervisiors: forfeit your part 139 certificates and go private using county tax dollars to fund airport operations.

    • Hang on J.R. The county already benefits.
      Reid-Hillview Airport, according to airport management, runs on self funding budget through charges for hangar, shelter and tie-down usage, rents from a flight school, a maintenance facility, and small commercial rents, and a surcharge on fuel sold. How about sales tax on everything that is sold there, as well as the property taxes on the possessory interest of tenants, and on the value of the aircraft.
      The airport is 1/3rd tenanted and 2/3rds runway and open space so there is no direct cost burden for police and fire and other infrastructure like roads and bridges. It pays its own way. Taxes are ludicrously high for the space consumed. The county has refused FAA grants since 2011, foregoing many millions of $$$. Does this sound like responsible county management? I don’t think so.

    • I believe closing the airports is the point. Remove the 100LL, watch aircraft who “need” that fuel move away, declare the airport uneconomic, and close it.

      • Yup, already underway. Santa Clara County puts near zero $ into the airport for years and the place is literally falling down. The FBO hangars are held together by rust, BUT the airport said the lease holders are welcome to repair or replace hangars with under the terms of ONE or TWO year leases.

        Who is going to put $200K into a hangar with only a 1 year least? Country blames the lease holders for the deterioration. How convenient and self-serving. Seriously the airport is a dump… And it’s by design.

      • Thomas, led by a radical lady named Cindy Chavez, the Santa Clara County supervisors have already voted to:
        a) Close Reid-Hillview Airport
        b) order the only fuel to be sold at RHV is unleaded Swift fuel
        c) Ordered staff to prepare a redevelopment plan to turn the airport into low cost housing.
        Cindy Chavez will be timed out in a year so she might fade away. She’s been a real PIA and she just doesn’t like the airport.
        She doesn’t need to make or declare the airport to be uneconomic —- she just doesn’t like airports, which is really dumb.

        • I just don’t buy it, the fact that Cindy Chavez will be out in one year, do you really want her free from the crap she has caused?

          the fact remains. She belongs to some organisation & that organisation can be addressed. These orders to turn pumps into Lead free 94 is a Con job.

          Our/any G.A. Group should lead in what is known as an “OFFER OF ACCEPTANCE” which is enforceable and does not require a court with a (paid for 3x) Judge.

          This OFFER is in response, in affect says: “ our Airport _____ agrees to change over our pumps, under your sworn agreement that:
          You lower case human name, and in your birth cert all caps name, accept any and all liability for loss of life resulting from:

          A. Med-evac aircraft mid-trip filling “94 for Jet-A” due to 3rd pump dispensary confusion, with confusing Color codes, filling up at night, in the dark;
          Etc Etc. plane crashes from people landed there thinking there was fuel and they found out there wasn’t, so risked continued flight form unattended airport. ;
          And swearing that “Cindy” received no monies to represent ??? Or the EPA.
          (Probly why she is rotated ‘out’ to ano airport in ano county.)

          The Clauses are statements she has to swear under oath, with a Notary present.

          On her sworn statements, if her claims are False, she or her handlers can pay large amounts in of millions of dollars and the defending parties would be separately and jointly required to pay.
          ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY ON THEIR (epa) SIDE.

          Check out UCC uniform commercial codes also.

          Fight.
          I see sneering about ‘silly California’ but nothing to sneer at.
          Their win, if it happens, becomes bona-fide ( good trust- fidelity) in Case Law, which other states rest upon to win otherwise week cases!

          give me an email

          • Informationally, for those who may read the preceding comment and wonder about the references to lower case / upper case names — this stems from a nonsense worldview called “Sovereign Citizenry” which holds to all kinds of stupid and easily disprovable claims, including the idea that there is a legal difference between your name in all caps versus your name written any other way. Google it if you wish but be prepared to have your intelligence and common sense assaulted.

            Out of curiosity Steve, do you hold that a Pilot’s Certificate is required to pilot an airplane, or are you simply “traveling”?

  5. While lead is a poison, so is lying about the nature and extent of the problem is no less so. Simply put, if the mount of lead emitted now is unsafe, then where are the dangerous results and having every car emitting leads when it was commonly used? THere is no argument that we should eliminate lead use but don’t foment fear by lying about how much leade fuel is lised anymore. If I remember correctly, GA uses oe quarter of one percent of all the fuel being used today. So, if 22% of lead emitted is done by flying, then the absolute amount of leaded fuel used is extremely small.

    • The city/county officials there are more interested in turning airports into business parks. They can find “a reason” to do so.

    • Among people who study the question, the introduction of tetraethyl lead to motor gasoline is widely considered to be among the worst public health disasters of the 20th century and the removal of lead from motor fuel was one of the great triumphs of public health. Low level and widespread lead emissions from automobiles resulted in reductions of IQ among millions of Americans (if you were a kid in the 60s and 70s, as I was, that means you and me, BTW).

      But what do I know. I am only a physician with 40 years of experience who is board certified in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. I have evaluated and treated dozens of adults with lead poisoning and published peer-reviewed articles on the effects of lead in the biomedical literature. I also own and fly two GA airplanes and have a big investment in GA (and, I do not live in California).

      • Based on what I see going on in our government & elsewhere these days, there certainly is empirical support for claiming widespread low IQ. Assuming this is true, it isn’t unreasonable to hold it due to tetraethyl lead exposure, but it does seem odd that in today’s world of statistics we don’t see the studies & numbers that would buttress the claim by lifting it above other factors. Why is this?

      • I’m not automatically questioning your expertise, but you put some supposed consequences out there as a result of lead that I have never heard before, so I’m asking you to add specificity.

        1) Please state the specific study or studies that prove lead directly and solely FROM FUEL, not other sources like paint, etc., has been the cause of reduced IQ levels in the general population. Keep in mind that within a subset population that includes not the general population, but rather just the industrial production base, the problems with occupational hazards are a different issue and are usually left to the industries to mitigate the risks. When those people are affected negatively, IMO it would be more the fault of the industry than the product. Please tell me where I can obtain the study that shows leaded fuel alone has affected the general population in a statistically significant manner, where reasonable safeguards would not have made a difference.
        2) As to IQ of those who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, I managed to earn an engineering degree, enjoyed an airline career, and have been around leaded aviation fuel for 50 years. I’m not a dope, but by your inference I should be on the genius level if not for my exposure to leaded fuel.

        I’m not a proponent of lead. I know it can lead to disease when handled inappropriately. That said, I have stated more than once in this forum that my dad and many others in his circle who came from the ‘greatest generation’ lived to ripe old ages with no obvious consequences from lead or other undesirable substances that were far less controlled in the past. How did (do) they fit into the statistics?

        Finally, I DO live in California, where lots of people have agendas and logical thinkers are labeled as misfits. The bureaucrats here are inconsistent idiots. One of my former pastimes was hanging around the local glider field. The owners had just purchased a beautiful, brand new, drivable winch launch vehicle from Europe. It used unleaded auto fuel, but the California Air Resources Board (CARB) officials prohibited its use because the engine wasn’t approved in California. No discussion of a wavier, considering the circumstances. As anyone can figure, all glider tows resumed using unregulated Lycoming powered light aircraft with 100LL. This is the level of oversight you are dealing with.

        • Bill, on the Santa Clara County website you should be able to find a report from Belgium that showed a direct correlation between lead levels and children’s I.Q.
          Cindy Chavez had a local report done which showed lead around Reid Hillview Airport. Unfortunately for Ms Chavez, in a 3 mile radius all soil samples showed a level of lead, presumably from auto usage.
          The Belgium study showed that as lead levels increased I.Q. levels decreased. The Hispanic residents in the ghetto in that area seized on this that the rich white men that live out of the area but travel in to RHV to fly their planes are suppressing the Hispanic children by belching leaded fumes over the neighborhood which lower the I.Q. levels of the Hispanic children, resulting these kids from ever obtaining scholastic levels which will allow the kids to get into major colleges, thus being forced into dead end low paid jobs while the rich kids gt the high paying jobs.
          Cindy Chavez embraced this argument and the pilots managed to get unleaded fuel sold at RHV. That was a win for the pilots but Mz Chavez relentlessly forges ahead to close the airport, now having staff plan for low cost housing there.

        • Agree. Ethanol and methyl-tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) were close substitutes in the gasoline additives market until MTBE was banned due to the concerns about groundwater contamination, leading to a sudden and dramatic substitution toward ethanol as an alternative oxygenate and octane-booster.

      • R100RS, you treated dozens of patients for lead intoxication, but you did not mention the source of the lead that caused the intoxication.
        Can you assist us by reporting the sources? The patients would have given you insight to the source.

  6. We’ve had 48 years’ notice. There simply shouldn’t be any aero engines less than 30 years old that require 100 octane, and the ones over 30 years old should have gone through an overhaul in the interim that would have allowed for upgrade to 94 octane. This should not be an issue today. The fact that it is, is the industry’s fault and it is going to be a big problem. The fact that most of our community are still sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting LA LA LA LA LA is a big problem. The fact that the LyCoSaur manufacturers still don’t have 94-octane STCs for their engines suggests they see no future in GA and are just trying to string out the profits before GA shuts down altogether. The only engine manufacturer of any size that seems to be investing in GA is Rotax.

    Yes, 94-octane STCs could involve costs to change the engines and could marginally reduce horsepower and could require issuing updates to POHs. And perhaps the cost of complying with the FAA’s processes could take some of the blame here. You know what? We’ve had 48 years.

    • They have been doing studies. So far, no substitute is without issues. You are also forgetting about the Experimental side. Nobody knows how a substitute will work in homebuilt fuel systems constructed with parts from multiple eras that are working fine with 100LL.

      Myopia has also been an issue.

      • Unleaded 94 octane won’t hurt anybody’s fuel system. The OEMs could have modified their engines to accept the stuff decades ago. Most, if not all engines could be modified relatively easily during overhaul to accept it, so if the OEMs had stopped shipping engines that require 100 octane, say, 30 years ago there would only be a few antique engines remaining that still need it.

        This was never hard. It just required not delaying, postponing and deferring. That path has now come to an end, but even now the GA community is demanding 100 octane fuel (complete with, as you clearly realize, additives that will immediately generate issues) instead of accepting that 94 octane was always and is still the sensible way to go.

    • Thomas, you are presuming this is only an engine issue. Octane is an airframe issue too. Vapor lock is not isolated to the engine only but involves how the engine is installed, and the fuel is plumbed in the airframe.

      Furthermore, you acknowledge that changing aircraft over to 94UL requires an STC. There is already an STC with a fleet-wide AML for G100UL available today.

      So, you’ve already got your wish. Have you purchased your G100UL STC yet?

  7. Logging from Ground Zero at Reid Hillview Airport in San Jose, as ASN Rep and Board member of group fighting to save RHV since 2016. First, the county stopped accepting FAA AIP Grant funding in 2011 to start 20 year clock so they could close airport in 2031, so that horse has left barn, and county is funding all operating expenses beyond airport enterprise fund revenues as “loans” to assist in closure arguments. Second, 85% of flight operations (165k/year) have been unleaded (Swift’s UL94) since it arrived in volume in SF Bay Area in Fall of 2021, thanks to our efforts. Aircraft eligible to run UL94 run better on it than they do on 100LL! And engines needing 100 octane fuel can’t run safely on UL94. Period! Today, they all fly 10 or 20 miles to another airport to purchase fuel. UL 94 sold by county is pricey, but works very well in all flight school aircraft and half of private fleet. According to famous “Lead Study” in 2021, if 75% of flight ops were unleaded, would have impact as if no airport in environment. County has ignored that fact, along with actual trail verdict and studies assigning blame to lead paint residues and lead in plumbing, such as local pre-school where actual testing found real Flint Michigan levels more than 5 times state allowable levels. And finally, Dr. Zahran’s 2021 study (unlike EPA or BAAQMD or County’s own $250K Soil Study, which were all negative for elevated lead levels) was merely a series of correlations of his assumptions, such as that paint and plumbing and the adjacent auto racing track and decades of auto traffic on 8 lane expressway adjacent to airport had no impact on legacy lead levels. The state data he relied upon also showed higher blood levels in San Francisco (no airport..) and other zip codes far from the airport. Conveniently ignored.. The 5 career politicians who sit as county supervisors want the land to redevelop, as market value is north of $1 Billion, and higher tax revenues are tempting plus poor neighbors who moved into neighborhoods around airport are well organized and complain loudly about everything from noise to safety to economic injustice of aviation.

    • Should have been “trial verdict” not trail.. County was lead plaintiff suing paint manufacturers for residual lead in older homes, and won more than $100M for all plaintiffs to “remediate” lead paint issues by 2024, or settlement agreement vacated and settlement amount reverts to paint companies. County hasn’t even identified affected homes yet, has no plans to spend money, so cash will vanish. And case held as “matter of law” that lead paint in older (pre-1978) homes was primary cause of lead in blood of children. No mention of Avgas in court cases settled in 2020.

    • If the property really is worth $1 billion and there are 165,000 movements annually, then we can calculate that the opportunity cost of owning the property is at least $1 billion x 7% (ish) = $70 million annually. To cover that, each of those 165,000 movements would have to deliver $424 in profit to the county, to justify keeping the airport open – assuming the county rather foolishly ignores infrastructure value (kind of like valuing the land under freeways as if it could be residential).

      But let’s check our work. The airport covers about 193 acres, and residential land in San Jose is worth roughly $3 million/acre. So, call it $600 million. That calculates out to $250/movement, to cover it (foolishly setting aside the infrastructure value).

      You can see where the county’s developers, and their political spokespeople, are coming from.

      • Residential land value undervalues the entire single piece of property, which is planned for combination of commercial, residential (150 units/acre…) and light industrial… It is the largest potential piece of undeveloped property in the City of San Jose within the county, and thus very attractive to the developers and construction unions who fund local politics. Infrastructure value in the media is a negative, as it destroys local property values, and the airport puts adults and children’s lives in danger daily from poisonous lead and (really!) carbon monoxide and noise, plus the risks of crashing airplanes.. Sigh..

        • Lives in danger? Soooo, let me get this right. You are against anything that puts the public at risk. Correct? So that means that you want to ban all car usage since auto usage kills 50,000 people a year in the USA.
          Please, don’t be so incredibly ridiculous with your assertions.
          Reid-Hillview Airport puts out an infinitesimal amount of lead. Carbon Monoxide similar. 159 acres? Put another way. When we do traffic studies we use a figure of ten vehicle trips per day per residence. If you build twenty units per acre you have 3,180 units, leading to 31,890 vehicular trips per day. You can preach all you want but the airport has no fatalities that I can recall (although there must be some) versus the injuries and fatalities that will be caused by 31,890 vehicular trips per day.
          I really wish that you NIMBYS would get real about the benefit of open space in your community.
          How about carbon output by 3,189 residential units?
          The ElToro Airport study in Orange County showed that airports make good neighbors, and this applies to Reid-Hillview. It has two runways, about 3,000 feet long which limits it to light aircraft, those aircraft carrying one or two people, this limiting the potential for injury by simply having fifty movements per hour with few people. Compare that to auto usage in San Jose, with daily accidents and weekly fatalities, and suddenly the airport looks pretty good.

  8. There sure is a large denial group here telling use that lead is not really dangerous.
    I would imagine these are the same people who were trying to tell us many years ago that cigarettes were not dangerous for us either.

      • Raf, lead does not break down in the environment, and we are better off without it. But your objection is diluted by the astonishingly small amount of lead that is exhausted from any aircraft and dispersed before it reaches anyone.
        I agree with your mention of cigarettes. The reason why government has not banned cigarette sales in California is because it profits from cigarette sales. You remember the penalty tax that the Administration voted in, supposedly to make cigarettes expensive which would discourage use and that revenue would be shared with schools? Well, the state immediately bonded against that anticipated revenue so it repays the bonds from the penalty tax. How did it use the won money” I have no idea – just blew it away is my guess.

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