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TEL and the uncertain future of Avgas 100LL

AOPA UK have been working with other European AOPAs, through IAOPA Europe, on the issue of finding an acceptable alternative lead free fuel to AVGAS 100LL. The following is an update on the current situation from IAOPA Europe.

While the UK is no longer a member of the EU or EASA, the consequences of a Europe wide ban on lead in AVGAS will inevitably be felt by the UK aircraft fleet.

You likely haven't heard of the abbreviations ECHA, REACH, PAFI and TEL yet. If you don't depend on Avgas 100LL for fuel, those aren't important to you, but an estimated 16,000 aircraft in Europe still have no alternative to AVGAS 100LL. If you fly one of those aircraft then you should read this article more closely.

The background:

Like EASA, ECHA is an agency of the European Commission, it is based in Helsinki and, as the “European Union Chemicals Agency”, is responsible for chemicals and environmental protection.

REACH is one of the central programs of ECHA, the abbreviation stands for "Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals". As part of REACH, environmentalists in autumn 2019 took a first look at the substance tetraethyl lead (TEL), the lead-containing additive in aviation fuel Avgas 100LL.

A risk analysis has classified the endangerment of citizens and the environment from TEL as significant. The only remaining TEL manufacturer on the world market is based in Great Britain.

In the past, TEL was used in all automotive fuels, but it was successfully replaced there over 40 years ago. In aviation, however, this has not yet been achieved. Anyone who thinks that this project is once again a purely European administrative phenomenon should check up on the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI) project in the USA.

With the help of the PAFI, the aviation authority FAA and the industry in the USA have been trying for years to develop a new unleaded successor fuel in order to be able to take AVGAS100LL, which is attacked by various environmental groups, from the market.

However, despite years of research and development, the PAFI project does not yet deliver the desired results; the task of finding a successor that can be replaced 1:1 without further effort is evidently not trivial.

Is there already the redeeming breakthrough? The US manufacturer GAMI has apparently achieved success in the search for a lead-free high-octane Avgas. At the recent EAA Convention in Oshkosh, a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC)for an unleaded 100 octane fuel was presented, which so far only relates to the Cessna 172, but is to be expanded.

But it is still unclear whether the aromatics used as additives can be approved in Europe. The answer to this question will decide whether the new product will represent the hoped-for breakthrough. We are currently doing research and will get back to you with an update as soon as possible.

In June 2021, the EU Commission issued a recommendation to require authorization for the import and use of TEL. What is the end result? Unfortunately, nobody knows that today, as it is a political as well as a technical process with several procedural stages.

The range of possibilities are:

In the best case, this has no consequences for the end customer: The authorization for TEL takes place, the substance can be imported and processed further, in the meantime, either at PAFI in the USA or in Europe, a long overdue lead-free fuel alternative is being developed and launched on the market.

In the worst case, TEL will not be authorized because either the industry has not applied for it or the authorities have not granted it. A lead-free successor fuel that solves the overall problem is also not being developed in time. In this case, after a transitional period, from the so-called “Sunset Date” in autumn 2024, TEL will no longer be introduced into the EU as a pure substance, only as a 1 per million dilution in the Avgas. This in turn would mean that the European Avgas 100LL would have to be produced in the next available refinery outside the EU - which would currently be in the USA - and then transported to Europe. According to initial estimates, this could increase the price of Avgas 100LL by up to one Euro/Pound per litre and thus in practice take it out of the market.

What is the European IAOPA doing now?

Together with the associations GAMA (GA manufacturers), EAS (Europe Air Sports), EBAA (European Business Aviation), EHA (European Helicopter), ERAC (European Regional Airports), ECOGAS (GA support companies) and IAAPS (flight schools for aviation personnel) we issued a statement with the aim of postponing the authorization until an unleaded fuel alternative is on the market.

The further use of TEL cannot be negotiated on a permanent basis.

IAOPA agree that TEL has to be removed as quickly as possible, it not only harms us biologically but also politically. Unfortunately, engine and fuel manufacturers have been, for decades, more or less inactive here.

We also want a European research project, there is already a manufacturer who has applied for a patent but does not yet have an aviation certification. We are actively supported in this proposal for a European development program from EASA.

What should you do?

You should check whether your engine may already be operated with unleaded Avgas UL 91/96. Before purchasing a new aircraft, you should consider whether you are taking the unknown risk of failure of the AVGAS 100LL supply or using an aircraft that does not require AVGAS 100LL.

AOPA UK and IAOPA will continue to make our voices heard, together with the other associations, and keep members informed.

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