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Transportation Earth Government

FAA Wants All Aircraft Flying On Unleaded Fuel By 2018 366

Posted by Soulskill
from the even-death-drones dept.
coondoggie writes "The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week put out a call to fuel producers to offer options that would safely let general aviation aircraft stop using leaded fuel by 2018. The FAA says there are approximately 167,000 aircraft in the United States and a total of 230,000 worldwide that rely on the current 100 octane, low lead fuel for safe operation. It is the only remaining transportation fuel in the United States that contains the addition of tetraethyl lead, a toxic substance, to create the very high octane levels needed for high-performance aircraft engines. Operations with inadequate octane can result in engine failures, the FAA noted."
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FAA Wants All Aircraft Flying On Unleaded Fuel By 2018

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  • by Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:42PM (#43979453)
    Now I know where I can get leaded gas for my old car. :)
    Off to the airport. :)
    • Re:Thanks Slashdot. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Lehk228 (705449) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:44PM (#43979469) Journal
      if you get caught with avgas in your tank (it's dyed) you are in deep shit
      • Re:Thanks Slashdot. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:25PM (#43979845)

        Mix two different octanes of avgas together and the dyes disappear. It is a feature of avgas to alert pilots in case they mix octanes.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      No you really do not. Even 100LL has a lot more lead than you want to put in a car engine.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:44PM (#43979475)

    It's piston-engine stuff like Cessnas that make up the remaining leaded avgas users, and even there, only the subset of engines that require the 100-octane avgas. Both newer and some older stuff can use 91-octane stuff that's now unleaded.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      It's piston-engine stuff like Cessnas that make up the remaining leaded avgas users, and even there, only the subset of engines that require the 100-octane avgas. Both newer and some older stuff can use 91-octane stuff that's now unleaded.

      There are however a LOT of older planes around that require leaded - plenty of them dating to when liability lawsuits resulted in halted production sometime in 1986, and plenty more during the boom period of 1997 (when production resumed thanks to Clinton's limited product

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        The big questions are, how many miles are these planes flying, and how much actual fuel are they using. Sure there's a lot of planes out there that use this kind of fuel, but how often do they get used? Are they mostly pleasure type aircraft that maybe fly a few hours a week? Does it really create a huge problem in the environment? Only stating the number of aircraft is useless if the planes are never flown, or only account for a miniscule amount of pollution generated from air travel.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by sixoh1 (996418)

          Those aircraft (at least in the US) that remain registered (an FAA requirement to operate these aircraft) have lots of operating data. See the NALL report (AOPA and others). In general a 100LL 4-cylinder piston aircraft is the workhorse of the GA fleet, used by flight schools and flying clubs. A 1969 Cessna 172 is likely to be a primary trainer (the first aircraft you step in) because the depreciated cost of the airframe and simplicity of the engine/avionics means a flight school can operate it at a "rea

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Actually the new unleaded AVgas is supposed to work in all of them.

      • by stox (131684)

        Does the new unleaded AVGas lubricate the valve seats like lead does? That was the issue with old cars, putting in new valves and valve seats would solve the problem.

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          The goal is a drop in replacement. If not hopefully the new valve seats can be done during a cheaper but still expensive top end overhaul.
           

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:47PM (#43979489)

    So in 6 years, the FAA expects 167,000 aircraft owners to swap the engines in their aircraft for an unleaded engine? In 6 years companies are supposed to develop an unleaded engine that will fit in every type of small prop aircraft currently flying? Yeah, not happening.

    And as a small single engine plane owner myself, I'll be damned if the government forces me to spend 30K on swapping out a new engine, then more on inspections and re-certification of the aircraft.

    • by Sperbels (1008585)

      I'll be damned if the government forces me to spend 30K on swapping out a new engine, then more on inspections and re-certification of the aircraft.

      I'm not questioning that figure (because I know it's true) but why do airplane engines cost so friggin much?

      • by Kaenneth (82978) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:03PM (#43979643) Homepage Journal

        I'll be damned if the government forces me to spend 30K on swapping out a new engine, then more on inspections and re-certification of the aircraft.

        I'm not questioning that figure (because I know it's true) but why do airplane engines cost so friggin much?

        Compare to the price of mid-air failure.

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Lawyers and small market.
        Liability is just through the roof. One problem is that no one wants to speak ill of the dead. You never hear about a bad private pilot crashing because no one wants to heap blame on the dead and their family. The end result is that even if the it is the pilots fault the family will often win the lawsuit.
        Second the small number of aircraft built. More Cessna 172 were built than any other light aircraft with over 43,000 made. The problem is that it has been in production since 1955!

      • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:02PM (#43980095)

        They are also much lower volume production than car engines. The designs are different enough that it isn't easy to just substitute automobile engines for aircraft use. Its been tried, and has worked in some cases, but not many.

        Basically aircraft engines turn slowly (usually 2700 rpm max) because the propeller tips need to stay subsonic. Gear boxes are very heavy because of the large moment of inertia of the propellers and haven't worked very well in most installations. The low engine speed means that it needs very large displacement (9 liters is not uncommon) to get the required power. Light weight / high airflow give you air cooled, aluminum-finned engines. The aircraft engines are actually very efficient at their normal operating point. Part of this is due to the high compression allowed by high octane fuel.

        • ... The designs are different enough that it isn't easy to just substitute automobile engines for aircraft use. Its been tried, and has worked in some cases, but not many.

          Basically aircraft engines turn slowly (usually 2700 rpm max) because the propeller tips need to stay subsonic. Gear boxes are very heavy because of the large moment of inertia of the propellers and haven't worked very well in most installations. The low engine speed means that it needs very large displacement (9 liters is not uncommon) to get the required power. Light weight / high airflow give you air cooled, aluminum-finned engines. The aircraft engines are actually very efficient at their normal operating point. Part of this is due to the high compression allowed by high octane fuel.

          I appreciate your content-rich post -- I got a couple of good solid facts out of it I hadn't known before, and that always pleases me.

          Question -- has the idea of swept (as in swept-wing) propellor tips caught on? I understand the airfoil configuration of a straight prop is complex enough, but with modern modelling and manufacturing methods I'd think the costs of those props could come down, potentially allowing higher RPM engines. How's that gone?

          • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @10:16PM (#43981083)

            There have been some improvements in propellers - Hartzell makes some "scimitar" shaped propellers that are a bit quieter and marginally more efficient. Not a lot to be gained though since standard propellers are pretty high efficiency (maybe 90%?).

            What you are suggesting is using smaller diameter propellers that turn faster. There unfortunately you are fighting aerodymaics. Propellers are wings. Wing tips add drag, so you want as few as you can. Thin wings are more efficient than fat wings. This pushes you to a small number of small thin blades - and 2-blade, think props are what you see on small aircraft.

            There is a limit though in how much power a 2 blade thin prop can deliver so as engine power goes up, you get more blades (3, 4, sometimes ~7 on prop airliners), and the blades get fatter. This all decreases efficiency, but there seems to be no way around it. So, you could go up in prop RPMs but the loss in efficiency so far hasn't been worth it. With a single engine plane its also difficult because if the prop gets smaller in diamter, it is mostly shadowed by the fuselage of the aircraft. Twin (or more) engine planes can have smaller props out on the wings (and some do), but that is a small part of the general aviation market.

            Before someone asks: piston engines are more efficient than turbines, but much worse power to weight. Large aircraft use turbines because the power to weight is so high that they can get to very high altitudes where the air is thin and there is low drag at high speeds. Flying that high really requires a pressurized cabin, so you don't see many turbines on small aircraft.

            • by evilviper (135110)

              Before someone asks: piston engines are more efficient than turbines, but much worse power to weight

              Turboprops are certainly more efficient than piston engines, using cheaper fuel, while being far more reliable and also lighter.

      • by Deadstick (535032)

        For just one of many reasons, airplanes last a long time. Sell a new airplane today, and you have to include enough money in the purchase price to buy a single-premium insurance policy that will protect you against product liability lawsuits for the 30-50 years it normally will last. And if it crashes, regardless of the cause, that lawsuit will come.

    • by tompaulco (629533)
      You also forgot to mention (though you likely know) that getting a STC (Supplemental Type Certificate) for an Unleaded Gasoline engine in the hundreds of models that are still using 100LL is going to take many millions of dollars and years of testing and paperwork to push through the certifying authority, which also happens to be the authority trying to force the issue.
      • by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:05PM (#43979679)

        You also forgot to mention (though you likely know) that getting a STC (Supplemental Type Certificate) for an Unleaded Gasoline engine in the hundreds of models that are still using 100LL is going to take many millions of dollars and years of testing and paperwork to push through the certifying authority, which also happens to be the authority trying to force the issue.

        Yeah, its a good thing that the FAA isn't talking about new engines at all, but instead calling on fuel producers to come up with replacement fuels that will work in current engines. Which is stated not only in TFA, which I can understand is a huge bother to read before complaining, but in the first sentence of the summary, as well.

        • No, they are not asking for workable new fuels, because there is no substitute for lead for the older engines. This is exactly as the GP suggests, this will put these people either out of business due to excess replacement cost or ground the airplanes that have not be cleared by the FAA for using pump gas.

                I also presume that this is part of the intent, no one care if general aviation is put out of business when worshipping at the alter of bogus environmentalism.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:57PM (#43979585)
      So, you expect everybody else to breathe in your brain damaging exhaust to save you some bucks.

      Tell you what, why don't you route your exhaust through the plane cabin and filter it with your lungs first.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:01PM (#43979623) Journal

      As the owner/operator of a complex network of around 100 billion neurons, along with support infrastructure, I'm not entirely sympathetic to your desire to continue emitting lead. Nothing personal.

      • You're sure you own all those neurons? Have you read the EULA recently?

      • As the owner/operator of a complex network of around 100 billion neurons, along with support infrastructure, I'm not entirely sympathetic to your desire to continue emitting lead. Nothing personal.

        You're on /. so it can't be *that* complex :-)

        • Oh, it's complex alright, it's just a question of how much of the complexity is unbelievably shoddy legacy code held together with little more than axons and optimism, and how much of that complexity can actually be deployed to some useful end.

          Either way, I can hardly afford to have it work yet worse than it works now...

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Honestly there are so few of them that it is not really a danger. Old fishing weights, lead figures, and old TVs are much more dangerous. The EAA was working with the FAA to produce a compatible avgas that is lead free so it is probably going to be a win win. It should even reduce the cost of avgas since leaded avgas can not be put in pipelines and has to be trucked or shipped by barge.

      • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:15PM (#43980213)

        In any environmental issue like this it makes sense to compare the damage and the cost of mitigating that damage. The total aircraft fleet is very small (1/1000 of the automobile fleet) so the lead emissions are nothing like we used to have from cars. Still I would very much like to get the lead out of aviation gas if there were a way to do it and keep flying. The problem is that the money has to come from somewhere.

        We could insist that aircraft only use unleaded. The problem is that the aircraft manufacturers have no interested in improving old planes, but most pilots cannot afford new ones: my '66 beechcraft baron cost about $100K to buy, a new one is about $1.2M. Replacing the engines would be about $90K even if engines certified for unleaded gas were available.

        The airlines would love to see GA shut down, it just gets in their way and maybe this is an activity that we can no longer support. Maybe flying is to be left to the big corporations. Many countries have made personal aircraft prohibitively expensive.

        On the bright side there are a couple of possible unleaded substitutes being tested. One works for some, but not all planes. Another seems to work in all planes but is a proprietary formulation and that is making the FAA nervous.

    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:03PM (#43979645)

      So in 6 years, the FAA expects 167,000 aircraft owners to swap the engines in their aircraft for an unleaded engine?

      No, and you can tell this from the first line in TFS: "The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week put out a call to fuel producers to offer options that would safely let general aviation aircraft stop using leaded fuel by 2018."

      They want fuel producers to offer options that will meet the need of aircraft that are currently dependent on leaded fuel to operate properly without lead.

      And as a small single engine plane owner myself, I'll be damned if the government forces me to spend 30K on swapping out a new engine

      I get that its a lot to ask you buy a new engine, or even to RTFA, but could you at least bother to read the first sentence of the summary before exploding with outrage next time?

      • by mjwx (966435)

        So in 6 years, the FAA expects 167,000 aircraft owners to swap the engines in their aircraft for an unleaded engine?

        No, and you can tell this from the first line in TFS: "The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week put out a call to fuel producers to offer options that would safely let general aviation aircraft stop using leaded fuel by 2018."

        They want fuel producers to offer options that will meet the need of aircraft that are currently dependent on leaded fuel to operate properly without lead.

        You can get RON-100 fuel for automotive engines that are lead free, why cant the same be done for Avgas?

        • Because it's not the octane rating that's the problem.

          Airplane engines use it to prevent their valves from dying [wikipedia.org]. Read further down on that link where it talks about NASCAR engines having trouble in early tests. These are engines that get rebuilt between races. If you think just changing the valves will solve the issue then I have some bad news for you. Most of the time it wont. Even if it does fix the issue, you're talking around $10,000 per engine to have a certified mechanic work on it and sign off

    • by esampson (223745)

      The government isn't asking you to do anything. It's asking the fuel companies to come up with a 100 octane fuel that will run in your older engine that doesn't contain lead.

      Now if you want to get indignant about the poor, put upon oil companies, have at it.

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      Better if they just put a $10 per gallon tax on avgas. To go up $10 per year for 10 years. Anyone still flying at $110 per gallon gets to.
    • by russotto (537200)

      So in 6 years, the FAA expects 167,000 aircraft owners to swap the engines in their aircraft for an unleaded engine?

      As far as the FAA is concerned, general aviation can just dry up and blow away and save them the headaches.

  • The Rotax 912 and Rotax 912s found in Diamond's DA20-A1 and DA20-100 are certified 91 octane unleaded fuel.
    • by sanchom (1681398)
      That is, certified to use 91 octane unleaded fuel.
    • by bunyip (17018)

      Yes, these engines are fine on auto fuel, known as MOGAS. The thing we have to be careful about is the ethanol they add to unleaded gas, so we go to a lot of trouble to avoid it.. Alcohol in the fuel can lead to corrosion. And to high food prices, but that's a whole 'nuther story...

  • by quarterbuck (1268694) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @06:58PM (#43979597)
    The issue is not with airlines (which use Jet fuel) or with Commercial operations (mostly using newer engines). It is with the flight schools and other General Aviation users.

    The problem with leaded fuels is not really that technology to use unleaded is not available, but that most of the General Aviation Fleet that is flying is older technology. Majority of the GA fleet are from 1970's or 80's when Cessna and Piper dominated the market.
    Then came lawsuits (frivolous and otherwise) and most of the manufacturers filed for bankruptcy. The airplanes from the 90s tend to be mostly homebuilt. Post 2000s a lot of the companies came back from bankruptcy and started making airplanes again. The only problem is that a new Piper costs about $200K while a perfectly usable 1970s Piper with overhauled engine and modern avionics is only about $30K. Airplanes last a lot longer than cars if regularly maintained. So most flying crafts tend to be old.
    So these older planes which were designed for leaded gas get recertified for low lead gas, but can never use unleaded.
    Newer aircrafts tend to do two things,
    1) Run on motor gas (mostly involves certifying for unleaded gasoline) . This has the nice side effect that the gas tends to be about 30% cheaper.
    2) Run on Diesel/Jet Fuel / Kerosine - In this case it sidesteps the entire lead problem and also avoids using spark plugs (depending on the design). Fuel availability is a lot better, though not always cheaper.
    One easy solution is to make unleaded mandatory for any Light Sport aircraft (which tend to be the newer airplanes built) and to increase a fee imposed while overhauling older engines (which get done every 1000 hours).
    That said, this move would permanently ground the WW2 display fleet that is currently flyable and a bunch of old Piper Cubs and Ercoupes. But they are all pre-ww2, so not a big loss I guess.
    • by Nimey (114278)

      I expect the authorities would make exceptions for warbirds... I'd hope so, at least.

      • Yes sure they can make an exception, but where would you then get the gas from ? You probably have to mix in lead directly in at the carb or something...
        • by caseih (160668)

          When Canada phased out leaded gas some years ago, you could buy an additive for older engines that you just poured in the gas tank. So I imagine that something similar could be done for exempt aircraft. Mixing in a tank first would probably be much cheaper than modifying a carb and much safer.

        • Yes sure they can make an exception, but where would you then get the gas from ? You probably have to mix in lead directly in at the carb or something...

          Lead additive was available for my 1966 car for quite some time after leaded gas disappeared. Plenty long enough for an engine rebuild -- a normal, wear-and-rear related rebuild -- with new seals, gaskets, etc.

      • by He Who Has No Name (768306) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @07:24PM (#43979835)

        They probably won't.

        The FAA has a deep and seething contempt towards former military aircraft in private hands... above and beyond their general malicious contempt of aircraft in general in private hands.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Airplanes last a lot longer than cars if regularly maintained

      That might be true, because so many of them are mostly Aluminum, and Aluminum oxide protects Aluminum in precisely the way that Iron Oxide doesn't protect Iron. But it might not be, because who properly maintains cars? Washing the undercarriage regularly and so on? Pretty close to nobody.

      this move would permanently ground the WW2 display fleet that is currently flyable and a bunch of old Piper Cubs and Ercoupes. But they are all pre-ww2, so not a big loss I guess.

      Isn't it possible to produce conversion parts?

  • "Kittenman wants to win huge amount on lottery by 2018"

    Yawn. We need less speculation and wishes in slashdot, more hard data. Well, that's my opinion.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I used to do analytical work on fuel certification in a refinery, and while I didn't measure the "octane number", I understand what it means.

    The number 100 refers to the performance of pure isooctane (2,2,4-trimethylpentane) as a fuel - isooctane is simply a reference for the "100" rating. Fuels are assigned a higher number when they are tested and shown to have a lower tendency to undergo premature ignition in an internal combustion engine (this phenomenon is known as knocking). Such premature ignition occ

    • The only reason the heavy metals are used is to reduce the cost of filling one's tank.

      From a backwards compatibility viewpoint, what about exhaust valves? From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaded_gasoline#A_valve_wear_preventive [wikipedia.org]

      Tetraethyl lead works as a buffer against microwelds forming between the hot exhaust valves and their seats.[3] Once these valves reopen, the microwelds pull apart and leave the valves with a rough surface that would abrade the seats, leading to valve recession. When lead began to be phased out of motor fuel, the automotive industry began specifying hardened valve seats and upgraded exhaust valve materials to prevent valve recession without lead.

      Not a big deal for new designs, but with cars anyway it meant it was a bad idea to use unleaded gas in old models that weren't designed for it.

  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @11:15PM (#43981463)
    Just run them on nuclear already. It works for submarines, lol.

I've never been canoeing before, but I imagine there must be just a few simple heuristics you have to remember... Yes, don't fall out, and don't hit rocks.

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