Port ‘jumping’ to replace leaded fuel at Camas airport

Commissioner says Port has ‘ethical responsibility to stop poisoning people’

Port of Camas-Washougal leaders gathered on Monday, Aug. 3, to discuss the results of a survey they had sent to their Grove Field Airport tenants about the possibility of switching to unleaded fuel.

About 20 minutes into the conversation, Port commissioner John Spencer decided that he couldn’t stay silent anymore. His ethical and moral concerns overrode anything else that may have been on his mind at that particular moment, and his words were laced with passion and conviction.

“We’re selling cigarettes, and it’s time to stop,” he said, referring to the leaded fuel. “Yeah, we’ll lose some money, but this is what we’re supposed to do. We’re here for the public good. We’re not supposed to be killing people with lead. I don’t understand why (any of this other stuff) matters. We have an ethical responsibility to stop poisoning people around us. You don’t do it because it’s not right. We should jump on (unleaded options) — not walk, not study. We need to jump. This is a big, big issue.”

The Port is now in the process of jumping.

The agency is attempting to bring two types of unleaded fuels, including a version recently approved for use by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to the airfield to complement and eventually replace the leaded version it currently sells.

“We had been told by other people, because they were told the same thing, that we’re stuck with 100 low-lead right now until the FAA approves the use of an unleaded version, so we did not think we had options,” Port Chief Executive Officer David Ripp told the Post-Record. “Having more discussions and doing research, we realized there are options. Our focus is to be good stewards, and now that we know that there’s alternatives, we want to offer (them).”

One of the options is an unleaded fuel called “94,” a “higher-octane motor vehicle gas,” according to Ripp. The other is a 100-octane unleaded fuel called “G100UL,” developed by Oklahoma-based General Aviation Modifications Inc. (GAMI) and approved by the FAA for use in all spark-ignition aviation engines earlier this month, a move the general aviation industry says will help its transition away from leaded fuel.

The FAA will phase out low-lead aviation gas by 2030, according to Ripp, who added that the Port wants to transition “sooner than that.”

“Eight years is way too long,” he said. “We don’t have to go, ‘Oh, we can wait until 2030.’ No, we’re going to be proactive and make this transition sooner than later. We’re getting ahead of it now. Now that we know there’s some alternative, some new abilities out there, we’re going to move forward with that. It’s definitely a positive thing for the environment and our community. We want to be viewed more as a leader (in this area).

“But the manufacturers have to start up and prepare it and get it out to market, so we don’t know the timing yet,” he continued. “We’re going to have a conversation with our (fuel) provider. We want to (ask), ‘Now that this has been approved, what’s the timing? How long is it going to take production to become more consistent, where we make an order and we can get it?’ Because right now, there are some airports using unleaded fuel, but there’s not enough supply.”

Despite leaded fuel having been banned in the United States for more than two decades in automobiles, every small piston-engined aircraft has continued to use leaded AVgas, according to a report on MSN.com.

“This is despite the well-documented and serious health effects leaded gas has, and though there (have been) unleaded AVgas alternatives in development for years, none were given an official FAA supplemental type certification until (Sept. 1),” the report states. “GAMI’s unleaded fuel is the first in the United States that is approved for all spark ignition engines and airframes.”

During the Aug. 3 workshop session, Port commissioners Cassi Marshall and Larary Keister agreed with Spencer that a change is needed.

“It’s in article after article — the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says there’s no known safe level of lead. I feel like we need to do absolutely everything we can do,” Marshall said. “I think what John’s saying is that there’s an urgency to it. We still have to do it smartly. But there is an urgency. We can do it differently. We can do it better. I’m very excited about the opportunities. This is a very good direction.”

Ripp said that there is no argument for staying with leaded fuel now that unleaded alternatives are available.

“Lead is not healthy. We know that. We want to get out of that,” Ripp said. “The one (area) where the pilots benefit from switching from low-lead to unleaded is that there’s less wear and tear on their engines, they don’t have to change the oil as often, and they don’t have to work on their engine as often because unleaded is less toxic. It’s less wear and tear on an engine, so it’s less maintenance. You may pay a little bit more for unleaded fuel, but then the overall cost is mitigated by less maintenance and work on your engine.”

Ripp said that the Port is exploring the possibility of managing the fuels with Rick Anderson, the owner of Fly-it Academy, the flight school based at Grove Field.

“We would want to make sure that he has the right certifications (and that he’s) following Department of Ecology, Environmental Protection Agency and FAA guidelines. If he can show that he can do that and have all the certifications and insurance and all that, then we’d probably allow him to do that,” Ripp said. “We’re still working through it, but maybe the Port would have him (manage the ’94’ alternative) and then we would eventually bring in the unleaded version when it’s available, and then we would eventually, over time, get rid of the lead and the low-lead and have unleaded fuel.”

Anderson spoke strongly in favor of the unleaded options and volunteered to manage them during the Aug. 3 workshop session.

“There’s an opportunity, and Fly-It’s willing to take the burden of making it available,” he said. “I can implement it quickly. I can start with my own fleet and try it out. My children and myself are breathing this (fuel) and are being exposed to this every day. My employees are exposed to it. We have 13-year-old-children learning to fly, and we’re flying over homes with exposure. I’m not saying that there are bad people (here). I’m saying that this is a bad situation. I’m raising my hand and saying, ‘Let me answer it. Let me take a whack at it. Let me take the chance.'”