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FAA Moves to Investigate Santa Clara County Airport Safety Issues

Aligns with call by GA groups to pause 100LL fuel ban

December 23, 2021 – In a strongly worded letter to Santa Clara County’s (California) leadership, the FAA is investigating the County’s ongoing airport safety issues, including its rushed ban of 100LL fuel as of January 1, 2022, as it considers possible violations of federal law.

Aviation groups, as well as local pilots and airport-based businesses, have shown that the ban carries significant safety risks as it does not provide a safe transition to unleaded fuel. In the letter, the FAA “strongly recommends that the County take action to suspend the effective date of its ban on leaded gas at the County-owned airports until this matter can be resolved.”

Since the FAA has received multiple complaints from airport tenants and users, along with a group representing industry stakeholders who allege violations of grant assurances at Reid-Hillview Airport (RHV) and San Martin Airport (E16), the agency is commencing an investigation under 14 CFR part 13 (“Reports of Violations”). The FAA has also shortened the response time for the County to 20 days, as it does so when “circumstances require expedited handling of a particular case or controversy.”

This step by the FAA also follows a call by general aviation groups to mitigate Santa Clara County’s ban on 100 low-lead fuel sales at the county’s airports as of January 1.

The FAA cited a sizable list of relevant complains as a basis for its investigation, including “the failure to address a significant number of significant safety concerns which have been enumerated in detail to the County via letters from the FAA. The County is on notice with regard to these serious safety concerns and the issues remain unresolved.”

In addition, the FAA is looking into the County’s refusal to offer long-term leases for all tenants at Reid-Hillview airport whose leases will expire on December 31, 2021. In all, the FAA is investigating eight potential violations by the County.

The general aviation industry is strongly committed to an unleaded future, but through a smart and safe transition. The industry has pointed out that the reckless and hurried ban could cause risks of misfuelling and potential engine failure in aircraft with the wrong fuel.

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