General aviation is at a “watershed moment” as airports begin to ban 100 low-lead aviation gasoline and the Environmental Protection Agency places a 2023 timeline for an endangerment finding on leaded fuel, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president and CEO Mark Baker warned. Facing a need to remain in front of the efforts, industry leaders hope to nail down a new timeframe for finding a drop-in replacement in the upcoming weeks, he added.
Speaking on Thursday during an NBAA webinar entitled “Big Year, Big Issues for Operators—CEOs' Perspectives,” Baker and NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen agreed that the recent efforts to ban leaded fuel have ratcheted up the urgency for finding a drop-in replacement. At the same time, those efforts underscore the importance of the FAA remaining engaged to ensure the safety of the fleet, they added.
“We all agree we need to move away from low-lead,” Baker said, but banning access, such as what Santa Clara County in California has done at Reid-Hillview and San Martin Airports, is a safety issue. Baker is encouraged that the FAA has opened an investigation into the move but said there is “a long way to go.”
Bolen added that an effort to ban avgas “falls under multiple titles: this is an airport issue, it's an economic issue, it’s a sustainability issue, but first and foremost it's a safety issue.”
Bolen stressed that while there has been progress, “there is not a clear path for the fleet nationwide. What we are working on is to make sure that we have an opportunity to make a thoughtful, smooth transition so we have an alternative that is a drop-in, that is available, [and] that we have the distribution.”
Baker noted that a cross-section of the industry has been working to address this on multiple fronts and “hopefully in the next month here, we'll have some concrete dates and a definitive timeline.” He added that this will help reassure that the industry has a path to achieve its goal.
“We hope to get the whole industry to agree that the change will come in a timeline that makes sense so we can protect our airports,” Baker said.
Safety is the key priority since many piston aircraft must still operate on 100LL, but a secondary concern is that communities, particularly in California, will use the issue “as an excuse to close an airport or really restrict an airport.”
Also urgent is the looming endangerment finding, he said. “The EPA endangerment finding will scare a lot of people and it will be released sometime very soon. It will scare a lot of airport managers, and communities that say we need to make [100LL] go away sooner,” Baker said.
Bolen agreed and said the finding is not a surprise but underscores the need for expedience. “We’re working with everybody all the way up through the Department of Transportation Secretary to make sure we get the involvement, and if we need to involve Congress in this…to make sure we all agree we're going change away from low-lead fuel as soon as practical, as soon as safe, as soon as economically possible, [we'll] do that,” Baker said.
Bolen added that this is a “front-burner” issue, saying, “We've been working hard at it."