by Ted Land
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A group of Alaska pilots are banding together to take on the federal government.
They say a new rule on what type of gas they can use would put many of them out of business.
Many cargo airlines in the state use what's called AvGas, which is a fuel used by older, propeller-driven planes.
The EPA says it's a problem because AvGas contains lead.
On a busy Wednesday at Everts Air Cargo in Anchorage a World War II-era C-46 is headed for Aniak, fully loaded with goods.
The Everts fleet is like an aviation museum of history, but the company says no other aircraft -- not jets or more modern turbo props -- can handle the gravel runways of rural Alaska.
"The majority of villages in Alaska are serviced by piston engine aircraft, the radial engine aircraft," said Susan Hoshaw with Everts.
Those aircraft are dependent on AvGas, which is now under the scrutiny of the federal government.
The Environmental Protection Agency is in the initial stages of creating a rule that would outlaw the fuel.
The agency and environmental groups supporting the ban say lead emissions are harmful and have been shown to cause cancer.
Cars have been using unleaded gas for years, but airplanes are a different story.
"To our knowledge and from our experience, those aircraft will not be able to operate with an unleaded fuel. There's nothing available out there that we are aware of," said Paul Mills with Aero Recip Alaska, a piston engine overhaul shop.
The Alaska Air Carriers Association has formed an AvGas work group.
Pilots, mechanics and other stakeholders are meeting to lay out a plan of attack, and Alaska's Congressional delegation -- speaking at a lunch earlier this week -- says it's aware of the issue and may soon take legislative action.
"We don't have roads. We can't deliver; we can't take medical people out by road or highway. We have to do it by air," Rep. Don Young said at the lunch.
"Are we being alarmist? Are we overreacting? I don't know that we are," Mills said.
Everts says planes like these could easily fly for another 25 years, but the federal government might have the final say.
The groups opposed to this potential ban on AvGas are asking the EPA to extend a 60-day comment period so they can gather their thoughts and present a reasonable argument.