A letter from Begich and several other senators sent last Wednesday to EPA and Federal Aviation Administration administrators calls for both organizations to work with the aviation sector and ensure an alternative to leaded fuel is available before a ban goes into effect.
“In Alaska, banning avgas wouldn’t just ground general aviation aircraft, it would have a major impact on daily life in many rural Alaska communities, disrupting commerce and costing Alaska jobs,” Begich said in a statement. “Many of our rural communities depend on leaded avgas for planes to carry their medicine, food, mail and goods and there’s no available alternative.”
While leaded fuel for automobiles was phased out decades ago, aircraft engines are designed to function at peak performance, and leaded fuel provides an extra power boost for propeller-driven aircraft. Without leaded fuel, airplanes risk being limited to less carrying capacity or lower altitudes than they are currently rated for.
“That’s going to cause a horrendous stress on aviation,” said Terry Cratty, manager at Servant Air, which supplies 100-octane leaded fuel to flyers at Kodiak State Airport.
The leaded fuel at Kodiak is used by small-plane operators who fly to villages across the island, Cratty said.
Some airlines provide their own fuel, and the big jet airliners Alaska Airlines flies use a different kind of fuel, he said, so Servant Air supplies mainly general aviation flyers.
While chemists have been working for years to provide a leadless fuel that provides the same power, so far they have not succeeded in coming up with one that costs the same or less than leaded fuel.
If the EPA bans leaded avgas without providing an alternative, “It will have a huge impact on the cost of operations, which of course gets passed directly to the consumer,” Cratty said.
Even if an alternative is created, it could still result in higher costs if it costs more than traditional fuel. That would have an impact on everything from the price of milk to mail in rural Alaska communities.
“Most people that own pistons, they don’t have a problem making a transition if you give them an alternative,” Cratty said.
While the EPA is still years away from implementing a ban — it only began taking comments on the proposal last year — that hasn’t stopped groups from organizing for and against it.
The Aircraft Operators and Pilots Association has lobbied for slow adoption of the proposed ban to ensure an alternative is available. On the other side of the issue, environmental group Friends of the Earth filed a petition in 2006 asking the EPA to ban lead in aviation gasoline. That petition resulted in the EPA soliciting comments for 120 days last year.
More than 500 public comments were registered, with more than 70 percent coming from Alaska, according to the Alaska Dispatch.
Early this year, the EPA announced it was expanding its air-quality testing program at small airports to determine the effect of leaded aviation fuel. The EPA currently estimates that about half of all airborne lead pollution comes from airplanes using the fuel.
One of the sites selected for the testing program was Anchorage’s Merrill Field, and the last of 19 other sites is expected to begin testing by the end of this year.
Initial data from the study isn’t expected to be available until 2013.
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org.