In front of a jam-packed and spirited audience attending EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin July 25, AOPA President Mark Baker was joined by fellow general aviation association executives and senior FAA leaders to provide an update on the GA industry’s transition to unleaded fuel.
“This remains the most important issue facing general aviation today and the biggest one I have dealt with in my time at AOPA,” said Baker. “The industry is committed to moving forward. We need to remember that this is not just about fuel; it's about safety.”
“Finding a solution has been a little bit of ‘science, chemistry, art, and engineering,’” said the FAA’s Maria DiPasquantonio, who presented one of the four EAGLE pillar updates, which cover research and development, infrastructure, fuel evaluation and authorization, and regulation and policy. “We see this as a gradual but dedicated transition.”
Baker, co-chair of EAGLE, was joined on stage by co-chair Lirio Liu, executive director of the FAA's Aircraft Certification Service, as well as other members of the EAGLE Executive Committee: Jack Pelton, chairman and CEO of the Experimental Aircraft Association; Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association; Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association; Karen Huggard, vice president of government affairs of the National Air Transportation Association (representing NATA President Tim Obitts); and Jim Viola, president and CEO of Helicopter Association International.
The issue of unleaded fuel has been a hot button in the GA industry, certainly evident in the crowd size at the Oshkosh forum and spirited questions posed to the panel following the presentation, many from pilots in regions that have prematurely banned (or are threatening to ban) 100LL during the unleaded fuel transition.
“It’s time to be done talking,” said Liu. “We need to see more action.”
Several questions were indicative of a perception among part of the GA community that EAGLE, industry, and government are turning a blind eye to candidate fuels in the supplemental type certificate process, namely from General Aviation Modifications Inc., and Swift Fuels. Panelists made it clear that EAGLE supports both the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI) and STC paths, and that the bottom-line goal is to find the drop-in fuel that works for the entire fleet of 200,000-plus piston GA aircraft.
“I hope that we have multiple fuels out there. Competition is good,” said Bunce. “Avgas is already too expensive and we need to drive down costs. We want multiple companies to succeed. GAMI and Swift, they've got a secret sauce and they're working on it, but at some point we have to get that into a process that is transparent. We're not going to put our families into something if we don't know the engine manufacturers and [original equipment manufacturers] support [it], and everybody feels comfortable.”
The meeting was the third stakeholder update session since EAGLE was formally introduced by former FAA Administrator Steve Dickson in February. EAGLE represents all facets of the GA industry, including associations, the FAA, airframe and engine manufacturers, fuel manufacturers and distributors, the Environmental Protection Agency, airport groups, and community organizations.
Retired AOPA Senior Vice President of Media, Communications, and Outreach Tom Haines, who served as the event host, summed up the general sentiment of looking for a solution that works for all as soon as possible: “We only have one chance to get this right. We want it to be done quickly but safely; I, like all of you, do not want to put my family in an unsafe situation.”