May 11, 2011 -- The Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH) provided notice early this week that it intends to sue 50 fuel retailers and suppliers (including subsidiaries and affiliates) for violating California’s drinking water and toxic enforcement law, based on the suppliers’ distribution of aviation gasoline, which contains a lead additive. The aviation members of the General Aviation Avgas Coalition, which includes EAA, are exploring all options for supporting the named fuel retailers and suppliers.
Because the National Airspace System belongs to the people of the United States and benefits the entire country, Congress has reserved to the Federal government, through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the right and responsibility to regulate all aviation activities in the U.S. The threatened CEH lawsuit in California raises the specter of a patchwork of state regulations governing fuels pilots may or may not use in their piston-powered aircraft.
Equally important, at the heart of the federal aviation gasoline fuel standard is safety of flight – ensuring that the engine of an aircraft in flight does not suffer a catastrophic failure.
The FAA, the federal agency with oversight for general aviation, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency with oversight for environmental concerns including aircraft emissions, are working with the general aviation industry – including aircraft and engine manufacturers, fuel producers and developers, and representatives of fuel suppliers and consumers – through the FAA’s Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to address the transition to an unleaded fuel. The ARC is working through a host of factors, with safety paramount, for transitioning to an unleaded fuel. These include certification, production, and distribution, as well as environmental and economic concerns.
It is imperative that the issues surrounding the safe and effective transition to an unleaded fuel be addressed at the Federal level, and that the FAA and EPA be the agencies that address those concerns.
The potential for this type of legal action at the state level highlights the necessity of FAA leadership, EPA involvement, and industry input to continue the safe transition to a new fuel.
The lead content of aviation gasoline has already been reduced by 50% since the federal Clean Air Act was passed. But even as the general aviation industry works toward an unleaded solution, the Avgas Coalition has taken steps to further reduce the lead content as an interim improvement, developing a Very Low Lead fuel standard that will allow for a further 20 percent reduction in the maximum amount of lead in the fuel without adversely affecting air safety.