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Sometimes it seems like air transportation is the last to catch up with energy innovations. Busses, cars and trains regularly run on a variety of green options. But airplanes, with a few exceptions, still run on good old-fashioned – and toxic – leaded gasoline. So the FAA request on Monday for fuel producers to help find a new, unleaded option for powering airplanes is a welcome advancement, even if it does seem a few decades behind.
Right now, both commercial and personal airplanes require leaded gasoline to run — the same gasoline that the US phased out in vehicles over 40 years ago. Airborne lead is can be very harmful, especially to children, and it can cause damage to the brain, kidneys and cardiovascular system. The aviation industry is the last holdout to continue using leaded gasoline in the US because of the high-octane requirements to keep airplanes in the sky. Without high octane, engine failure can result.
The FAA wants to step away from leaded gas by 2018 while still maintaining safe flight. “General aviation is vital to the U.S. economy and is an important form of transportation for many Americans,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We need to work with industry to develop an unleaded fuel that advances aviation safety and improves the environment.”
Over the past few years, the FAA has tested 279 fuel formations to find an alternative, but nothing has worked. So they are now asking fuel manufacturers to step in and submit proposals for lead-free fuel. The FAA will select ten options for phase one testing and up to two finalists for phase two testing. Once an alternative is found, the aviation industry will transition the 167,00 US aircraft over and finally become lead-free like the rest of the transportation system.