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Innovation is key to 100LL replacement

For four decades, 100LL has been the mainstay of the general aviation (GA) fuel supply. The blue-tinged aviation gasoline is commonplace at even the smallest airport with a fuel pump. Aircraft companies and engine manufacturers have developed their products based on its well-known performance specifications.

With the Environmental Protection Agencyís announcement earlier this year that it is beginning the process toward a rule eliminating lead in aviation fuel, thatís going to change. And that news has touched off a flurry of comments and debate not often seen in the GA community. Any change can be disconcerting, but change that threatens the ability of pilots to keep flying their aircraft is most disturbing.

While an angry mob might make everyone feel better temporarily, it doesnít change the situation. Eventually, lead is coming out of aviation fuel; 100LL will be gone, and something will need to take its place. What that ďsomethingĒ is will be one of the major issues facing GA this decade, but there is no need to panic.

EAA is determined to find the answer. Thatís why we have been facilitating ways to find technical and practical solutions. EAA also joined with other aviation groups, as well as the American Petroleum Institute, to work together on a solution. Already more than 20 years of research has gone into aviation fuels, studying more than 200 blends.

More importantly, EAA remains dedicated to welcoming any and all ideas that may be part of a solution. Many people working independently on fuel innovations. Some of those people have talked with EAA or appeared at Oshkosh in past years to describe their ideas. Thatís great. Itís what makes EAA unique: a membership that has the ability to learn from all ideas and create solutions that benefit the largest group possible.

Some researchers already believe they have made some progress with new fuel blends. The success of any one of them, though, will depend on whether it can meet the following checklist of requirements:

  • The ability to be widely produced and distributed by fuel refiners;
  • Production in high-enough quantities to meet the demands of the entire GA community;
  • The versatility to power a broad range of engines and aircraft (from a Cessna 120 to a Beech Bonanza);
  • A level of safety that would be at least as high as 100LL;
  • Acceptable performance in all environmental extremes;
  • A single-fuel solution that wonít force airports to add more tanks, pumps, and costs; and
  • A price point that doesnít keep pilots from flying because of significantly higher fuel costs.
  • Thatís a daunting checklist. Itís also part of the reason that no easy solution has been found in two decades of research.

    But, just because a solution hasnít been found yet doesnít mean it doesnít exist. Each time a potential blend doesnít work take us one step closer to finding one that does. Itís essential that we keep working with anyone and everyone who might be able to provide ideas and insight.

    Itís also critical that the GA community work together. With fuels, as with many issues, itís not a time to be parochial and think only of one particular type of aircraft. The answer must be one that serves the greatest spectrum possible.

    Former astronaut Jim Lovell, EAA 320945, commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, described his crisis management style to an audience at Oshkosh a few years back: ďSure, a person can bounce around the room for 10 minutes, but when you get done, youíre still in the same place. Itís better to start solving the problem right away.Ē

    Heís exactly right. Debating side issues or dividing the GA community over the issue is just bouncing around the room. Letís strap in together and get it done.

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