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FAA looks to phase out leaded gasoline in planes by 2018

June 29, 2012, 05:16 pm

The Federal Aviation Administration recently stated that it plans to find alternative fuel for most piston-engine private planes that will replace the gasoline that is the nation's largest source of toxic lead emissions by 2018.

This announcement marks the first time in the administration’s history that it has stated plans to approve unleaded gasoline in place of leaded, which has been used for the last 16 years in private aircraft since it was banned in cars.

"The elimination of lead from gas is one of the great environmental achievements of all time," said Carol Browner, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, in a statement about the banning of leaded gasoline in automobiles in 1996. "Thousands of tons of lead have been removed from the air, and blood levels of lead in our children are down 70 percent. This means that millions of children will be spared the painful consequences of lead poisoning, such as permanent nerve damage, anemia or mental retardation."

Just last year, a study linked elevated levels of toxic metal to children living near general-aviation airports. The EPA concluded in July 2011 that impacts of aviation gasoline are highest among children living closest to airports, posing a risk to health and speaking directly to the ongoing debate about the regulation of leaded aviation gasoline. Children that lived within 1,000 meters of an airport saw increased levels of lead in their blood by 2 to 4 percent. Life insurance for pilots is a viable option in preparing for the known factors involved with living near an airport.

According to EPA data, private planes accounted for 56.9 percent of U.S. lead emissions in 2008. Seeking out alternative fuel for the aviation industry considering gasoline sales have been decreasing over the last 10 years. The EPA estimates that it will cost the FAA $57.5 million over the next 11 years to test new fuels.

“The transition may still be years away, but this report charts a road map that identifies the essential elements that need to be addressed to make this happen in a way that maintains safety and the role government should play in minimizing the total cost,” said Eric Byer, vice president of the National Air Transportation Association.

Some argue there is no alternative to leaded fuel that will work, but Cesar Gonzalez, former head of engine and fuel research at Textron, told Bloomberg that most aircraft can be modified to take unleaded fuel at a minimal cost.

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