On this day, since 1970, the world has celebrated what is ultimately our most precious resource – the Earth itself – as Earth Day. Today I’d invite all of us to consider the wonders of the planet that we see everyday because of the gift of aviation. So many of us use our planes to journey to difficult to reach places so we can enjoy the beauty and splendor of the planet. We may be hiking, fishing, hunting, cycling, bird watching, or simply relaxing but it’s all made more practical because of aviation.
The irony is that the fuel that makes this possible for most of us, AvGas, is toxic to the planet (especially to humans, in fact) because of its lead content. AvGas is one of the last fuels that is still allowed to contain lead; leaded fuel for most automative uses has been banned since 1996. Lead, even in the minuscule amounts used in fuels, was found to be a significant health problem for humans, especially young children with developing brains. Of course the amount of lead added to the environment due to GA is vastly smaller than the amount that automative emissions used to add but it’s clear that the days of leaded aviation fuel are numbered.
The good news is that American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs are focussed on both alternate non-leaded fuels and electric power planes and are making very real progress. The difficulties are numerous, however, generally coming down to technical limitations (batteries are heavy) or economic realities (aviation is a tiny market, retrofitting the GA fleet is very expensive, etc.). Substantial progress has been made with both bio-fuels and electric planes and I’d encourage all of us to spend a little time learning about them. While none of them may come to pass in the near-term, the future is clearly along those lines. We should encourage the rapid progress that will help the planet, our children and grandchildren, and ultimately help ensure that the reason we fly — to see the wonders of the world — will continue to exist.
I should also note that Seattle Avionics is a proud sponsor of the Coast to Coast Biofuel Airplane Project. It’s an exciting and difficult adventure undertaken by Ross McCurdy to fly a C182 from Rhode Island to California using a 50/50 mix of biofuel and JetA. It’s truly inspiring reading and watching.