Food for thought on Fuels

Builders,

Below are four observations on fuels, a subject that rarely sees opinions based on numbers and reason. The topic of fuels draws out emotional responses ranging from compulsive cheapness to conspiracy theories, neither of which serve the serious builder. Feel free to use the comments section, keeping in mind I reserve the right to delete any comment which doesn’t have a human name attached to it.

.


.

(1) Yes, high octane unleaded fuel exists. Above is a can of 110 Octane unleaded fuel in my hangar. We use it for dyno tests and other research. The detonation resistance of this fuel meets or exceeds 100LL.  I buy it in our little town, off the shelf, it is about $8 a gallon, a price which includes a healthy profit and the container. It is sold at a little golf cart repair shop near our town’s drag strip. If ordered in a 55 gallon drum, it is substantially less than $5/gallon. Every year I hear “Experts” at Oshkosh talk about how having unleaded fuel with an octane higher than 94 would require a scientific breakthrough.  Reality: it already exists, no one need ask for a federal grant to re-invent it. I strongly suspect that if it were manufactured in the volume of 100LL, it might even be cheaper. Even if it wasn’t, aircraft engines would live a lot longer without lead in them. Extending the life of a motor 20% would offset a substantial price differential. Think it over.

.

(2) Fuel cost is a much smaller cost of aircraft ownership than people think. When the price of fuel goes up by a dollar, several people in every EAA chapter will pontificate that “flying just became unaffordable.” Try this at your next meeting: Poll ten people who have a hangar at the airport on how much their hangar rent was last month, and then ask them how many dollars they spent on fuel the same month. 9 of 10 will have bought less fuel than rent, yet they don’t complain with the same venom. Picture this: A lower cost homebuilt which took $25,000 to build, not to mention years of labor, which costs $1,000 a year to insure and $250 a month to store. The builder has an AARP card and may have only 10 or 15 good flying seasons left. If he flies 100 hours a year at 5 gallons an hour, he will spend $1,500 on $3/gallon fuel or $2,000 on $4/gallon fuel.  Only a fool would choose to fly a lot less because his annual operating cost went from $5,500 to $6,000/year. Reality says the sand is running out of the hour glass and you built the plane to fly it, not to protest the price of hydrocarbons.

.


.

(3) Aviation Gasoline is not expensive and apparently here to stay.  Above Is a photo I took at the Palatka Florida airport the day Paul Salters Panther flew. Notice the $3.29 100LL price. This isn’t accurate today, as the price has come down 9 cents in the last 2 weeks. I have worked in aviation basically every day since 1989. In that time I have heard several dozen experts and magazine editors citing “new laws” , “Federal standards”, “lead being outlawed” all predict that 100LL would disappear in 1990. 1992. 1996, 2001, 2002, 2008, 2012, and 2016. Lord knows, there will be people saying it is being outlawed in 2017, and people will believe them, in spite of the fact they have never been right. On the price of 100LL, people like to quote the price at the signature FBO at Miami International Airport, because it justifies their statement “I would fly all the time, but no one can afford to anymore.”  The actual local price of 100LL is a small fraction of this distorted number..

.

(4) There is a very ‘popular’ internet forward that states “Gas was $1.89 the day President Obama took office, and it is a record high today at $3.69” People like this, it gets passed around in aviation circles all the time, it just doesn’t happen to be true. The record peak gas price in the US was August 2008, when  George Bush was president, and it was $4.11/gallon. The change to $1.89 in 5 months reflects the economic collapse in the fall, and it says nothing about either president.  The $3.69 was July 2014, the actual national average today is $2.13 a gallon. essentially unchanged in eight years. There are a lot of people who think the price of gas is set in the oval office, and there are even more who decide if they can enjoy their life based solely on which party is occupying the public housing at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue. My personal love of airplanes goes so far back in my life, it certainly predates my awareness of politics. Given an chance to go flying or argue partisan debates with misleading data, I confess to being in the minority, the people who would rather build and fly.

.

.ww.

.