Across the Pond #2: Fuels to Ourselves

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Across The Pond

Why is it that when a company has developed the world's "greenest" light aircraft at a time when environmental issues are a political hot potato, it is effectively penalized for its work? Sweden's Lars Hjelmborg couldn't tell you. His company, Hjelmco Oil, has led worldwide unleaded fuel development and production for decades. Hjelmco's 91/96 avgas is approved for use in most Textron-Lycoming engines up to 180 hp, as well as the 235- and 260-hp O-540s and all Continental 100- and 145-hp engines.

Other than environmental considerations, there are compelling reasons the GA community should investigate using unleaded avgas. Says Lars, "Avgas is the only leaded fuel amongst unleaded fuels in the modern world. Companies have to isolate all of its handling, which increases costs. It is inconvenient to hire a ship to transport 100LL. You have to find a tanker where the next cargo can accept lead, e.g., a lubricant. You may not find a lubricant producer at the destination and have to return an empty ship. This pushes fuel prices up."

Lars Hjelmborg, founder and executive director of Hjelmco Oil

Lars is now chairing a committee set up by the American Society of Testing and Materials Standards (ASTM), the body which introduced the avgas D910 standard, to investigate flying on ethanol derivative ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE). He's also very open to anyone willing to work with him on new fuel development. "I have grey hair now and when I stop, the secrets will go with me."

There's another legal imperative to research greener avgas. Lars continues: "In 1987 the United Nations agreed in Montreal to ban various chemical compounds that dilute the ozone layer. One of the banned agents is the scavenging agent for lead in avgas (ethylene dibromide) that converts lead into lead oxide, which is emitted from the exhaust. Without this scavenger the engine would seize. It could only be a matter of time before, at 4 p.m. one Friday afternoon, a bureaucrat realizes this and campaigns against its use. No parliamentary approval is required."

Lars has reason to be wary of bureaucrats. Because of his pioneering work, more than 70% of the Swedish light aircraft fleet now runs on unleaded avgas, leading to no tax or VAT on avgas in Sweden. However, in my last column, I wrote about the fuel tax hike effecting EU member states. Lars comments: "The EC [European Commission] has refused to make any distinction between leaded or unleaded or bio fuel. We have to pay the same taxes as super-polluting fuel. We have approached the Commission, but it has not responded." The galling thing is there is no legal way to challenge the decision. He continues: "The EC report on aviation fuel contains so many errors. Based on those errors, the decision is illegal. But no one can challenge it. One hundred seventy million European citizens have elected governments. These legal governments applied to the Commission to grant them the right to handle the issue in their national parliaments. This decision was taken by low-level bureaucrat." Lars sent a letter two months ago requesting a meeting, but has still heard nothing ...

GA IFR in Europe

Shoreham Airport Terminal, on the southeast coast of England

I had a request from an AVweb reader to write about the difficulty of obtaining an instrument rating (IR) in Europe. It's a complex and expensive affair. The best resource to go for information and action is PPL/IR Europe, which offers practical advice and a forum to meet other pilots undergoing the same difficulties. Leland Vandervort has written an excellent article outlining the troubles he has encountered and offering useful solutions. The essence of the problem is that European pilots wishing to extend their privileges and fly in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) must spend copious amounts of time and cash to obtain a JAA IR. The major flaw lies at the heart of JAA regulations, which do not distinguish between using an IR for private or commercial flights, thus automatically lumping small Cessna and Beechcraft aircraft with the heavy metal traversing Class A.

European PPLs have to study at an approved ground school and pass their ground exams before even starting their IR flying training ... which, incidentally, is frequently only available at full-time residential organizations catering to commercial students. Often these schools only offer the rating in conjunction their commercial training. Even distance learning courses require a one-week residential course per module. The time and cost required are a huge deterrent for many PPLs who would otherwise move swiftly to obtain the rating.

Several pilots have got 'round the rules by obtaining an FAA Restricted PPL, to which they add an FAA IR. They then either fly IMC on only U.S. registered aircraft in Europe or convert their FAA IRs to JAA IRs. There are also several European national ratings allowing some IMC flight. These ratings are easier to acquire, but sadly are only valid in the airspace of the issuing country. PPLs without a full IR cannot fly IFR across country borders, even outside controlled airspace. For more than a decade the JAA touted the idea of an "All Weather Rating" for Europe, which seems to be a dead in the water since the JAA metamorphosed into the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

AERO 2007

AERO 2007

Enough already! Although things are looking glum on some fronts, it's not all doom and gloom over here across the pond. Airshow season starts in earnest this month with the 16th International Trade Exhibition for General Aviation (a.k.a., AERO 2007) kicking off in at Friedrichshafen, Germany. From April 19 to 22, 2007, the best of the world's GA offerings will descend on the biannual Europe show for four days of serious enterprise. Over 500 exhibitors from 30 countries will show off their wares in seven huge halls. The show takes place on the shores of Lake Constance with easy access to Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy, France and Eastern Europe. There's a static display and the famous Zeppelin airship hangar will be open to the public. There'll be offerings from general and business aviation, ultralight/microlight and light-sport aircraft, gliders, maintenance and avionics.

"The large number of exhibitors underscores the importance of this aviation trade show for Europe," says Messe Friedrichshafen CEO Klaus Wellmann. For the first time every manufacturer in the glider industry will be exhibiting. It's an important sector in Germany. Of the Deutscher Aero Club's 70,000 flying members almost 37,000 are sports pilots with gliders. The ultralight/microlight industry and very light aircraft (VLA) segments also continue to gain popularity and all the top European manufacturers will be showcasing their products at the show. There's also a strong American presence, with 34 U.S. exhibitors and an American pavilion. Admission costs EUR 25 for two days or EUR 13 for one day at AERO 2007

Flying to Friedrichshafen with PPR regulations or on a foreign license: Should you wish to fly yourself to AERO, you'll need to book a slot. Book online and find out approach procedures at this Web site. To obtain a "holiday license," you need to have a valid foreign ICAO license. You have to submit proof to the competent aeronautical authority (depending on where in Germany you are going to stay) or the local Luftaufsichtsstelle of the following: your license, its validity (if it is proven by a special document and not entered into the license itself like medical certificates) and not less than three take-offs and three landings with the type of aircraft concerned within the last 90 days before filing an application. Recognition of pilots' and helicopter pilots' licenses is restricted to airplanes and helicopters up to 2000 kg (4400 lbs) licensed to a minimum flight crew consisting of one PIC, as well as to VFR flights by day. Go to AOPA Germany for more info.

Hawker Beechcraft's British Move

Another positive move comes from Hawker Beechcraft (formerly Raytheon). The manufacturer has moved its international sales office to Broughton in the U.K. Sean McGeough, Vice President of International Sales, will head up the operations. For the past five years he has managed Hawker and Beechcraft sales directors in Europe, Africa, India and the Middle East. Since joining the company in 1999, he has worked through the Beechcraft and Hawker product lines -- from selling Beechcraft products across the United States to directing Hawker and Beechcraft sales in South Africa and India. He explains the rationale behind the transfer: "The move of the international sales office was made to centralize sales and support in one location. As our international market grows we also want to be closer to our customers. We plan on having a world-class sales office in Chester similar to what we have in our other locations like Little Rock and Wichita."

Europe is a key part of Hawker Beechcraft's future business and Sean says, "We are building long lasting relationships with our new and repeat customers. In the end, they have always been the backbone of our success in any region and we know it's just as important in Europe to do the same. We have added resources such as salesmen, pilots, tech reps and support personnel. Chester will be a big part of that future growth in what our facility there will have to offer. It will be our European and International headquarters."

The company has publicly stated it intends to bring its international sales up to about 50% of its market. Sean affirms: "We are seeking to increase sales in all markets worldwide. The dynamic fluctuations in world markets necessitate a flexible approach in maximizing sales wherever they may be. Europe will continue to be a big percentage of our growth and this year we expect our total sales to be over 20 percent going to mainland Europe. Markets such as Russia and Turkey have really been bright spots in our overall growth in the region. Our entire turbine product-range in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America have done very well and we are very bullish on future sales in these regions." Go to their Web site to find out more.

Sussex Flying Club

Arundel Castle (top) and Brighton Piers (bottom). Click here for a larger version (160 KB).

I also promised to let you know of great places from which to fly. Sussex Flying Club (SFC) operates out of Shoreham Airport on the southeast coast of England (see terminal photo above). Not only can you go touring in the U.K., but also cross the English Channel and do some sightseeing in France. Opened in 1936, Shoreham is the U.K.'s oldest licensed airport. The main terminal building is a glorious Grade-II listed art deco monolith, housing a few flying schools and a restaurant overlooking the apron and runways.

A word of caution: There are at least 12 pleasure-flight providers and training schools at Shoreham, making it especially busy at weekends. Both fixed-wing and helicopters are constantly practicing circuits -- fixed-wing aircraft at 1100 feet and helicopters at 600 feet above the airport. There are three runways, only two of which are in general use. Runway of choice is 1000-m, paved runway 02/20, with grass runway 07/25 in occasional use.

Sights to see around the area range from Arundel Castle (the Dukes of Norfolk's country seat), Bognor Regis, Brighton with its famous seaside piers and Beachy Head, the celebrated beauty spot, unfortunately renowned as much for its suicides as its loveliness. SFC also boasts a genuine French instructor. Elise Marin arrived 18 months ago on a work placement, liked the place so much that she stayed and is now a permanent fixture.

Regular club members frequently fly over to France, which is also a possibility open to temporary members, too. Says CFI James Crabbe, "We put out a notice on the board and people go over in Cessnas and Warriors. It's great as it involves short hops, not a long trip touring France. It offers people the chance to fly with an instructor at reduced or no cost, plus the experience of flying with other members. We have enjoyed many long weekends. People swap crews when they fly back for the return leg." Elise laughs: "Pilots love to have the 'exotic' travel of going to France. French clubs are really happy to welcome us. It's quite different arriving at a foreign field knowing there's someone waiting for you there."

For details of how to obtain a temporary membership or hire an aircraft go to SFC's Web site.

For more aviation news and information from Europe, read the rest Liz Moscrop's columns.