Avgas Survey: Slightly Higher Confidence in Supplies; Mogas Gains Favor

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Compared to two years ago, aircraft owners and operators say they’re more confident in future supplies of 100-octane gasoline of some kind—no thanks to the FAA—and fewer owners are delaying purchases or upgrades due to worries about fuel supplies. Nonetheless, many owners also report they’re flying fewer hours, due in part to the cost of 100LL, which now averages more than $6 a gallon in the U.S. These are some of the findings of a recent AVweb fuel survey conducted in August 2013. It repeats a survey we last performed in 2011 and asked readers for their opinions on a wide range of fuel-related questions, including attitudes toward modifications and using mogas as a substitute for 100LL, where possible. More than 1200 AVweb readers responded to the survey.

Confidence that some sort of 100LL replacement will emerge appears slightly higher. In 2011, 22 percent of readers—more than one in five—said they were delaying purchases or upgrades because of worries about fuel. Two years later, in 2013, that the number dropped slightly to 17 percent. Moreover, the percentage of owners saying they’re not delaying any upgrades or purchases rose sharply to 42 percent from 33 percent two years ago. However, comments we heard from readers reflect a certain resignation. “I wish I could wait, but I will have to have an engine overhaul soon,” said one reader. Added Brent Bunch, “I am worried. Mostly about cost. I am in the process of trading my high-compression, fuel-injected airplane for one that uses autogas. It would give me the most options.”

Bunch’s comment was repeated by many of the survey takers, suggesting there may be a growing acceptance of mogas as an alternative, even though only about 115 airports have it. We asked survey respondents how likely they would be to consider using mogas and 57 percent said they would, up from 49 percent two years ago. More significantly, in 2011, a nearly equal number (49 percent) said they wouldn’t consider burning mogas, but two years later that percentage dropped to just 24, suggesting that mogas’s negatives are down and it’s viewed more positively than it was two years ago. And some owners are doing something about this: More than one in five have asked their local FBOs to carry mogas and that percentage is also up from two years ago.

Wrote Stuart Kollas, “With an STC on a recently owned C-150, mogas was used as much as possible resulting in excellent running and reduced lead deposits. Mogas is burned almost exclusively in my present Rotax 912ULS which reduces the oil change requirement by one half. If the engine can safely use mogas, it is difficult to argue against it.”

The two biggest barriers against mogas usage, according to our survey, are lack of availability and doubts about the quality of the delivered fuel. Interestingly, the price difference against avgas doesn’t seem to be a major driver.

Only 5 percent of survey takers said they wouldn’t use mogas because it isn’t cheap enough compared to avgas. Nearly two thirds of respondents told us they think AOPA and EAA should get more involved in trying to get mogas on more airports.

We also asked readers if they followed the FAA’s Unleaded Avgas Transition group effort and the subsequent agency office to oversee the search for a new 100-octane unleaded fuel. While some 57 percent say they’ve followed this process, confidence in the FAA is quite low. Fewer than 5 percent said they were confident that the UAT-ARC process will yield a replacement soon, while 30 percent said they were somewhat confident.

“Special rulemaking is the problem. The FAA always over-bureaucratizes everything they do. This impedes progress. The FAA needs to relax their grip on GA,” observed Gene Meng. “I am not interested in committees, I am interested in action. This has been going on so long that I have no confidence in the process,” added another reader.

Regardless of attitudes toward future fuel supplies, flying activity doesn’t appear to be increasing, but eroding slightly.  Two years ago, 32 percent of survey takers said they flew between 50 and 100 hours a year and that number held steady for 2013. But the number of pilots and owners who fly more than 100 hours has decreased slightly and the number who say they fly between 25 and 50 hours has jumped sharply from 17 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2013.

Despite more favorable views of mogas, we didn’t see much movement in reader opinions toward modifying a high-compression engine to burn a lower-octane fuel, either with water injection or lower-compression pistons. In 2011, 36 percent of owners told us they would be somewhat or highly likely to modify their aircraft for a lower octane fuel. In 2013, this number declined slightly to 32 percent.