FAA Halts Investigation of Santa Clara County Fuel Ban

The temporary suspension is part of a new agreement between the agency and county officials.

The FAA is temporarily suspending its investigation into Santa Clara County’s ban on leaded aviation fuel as part of a new agreement between the agency and county officials. [File Photo/ Credit: Walt Gyger]

The FAA is temporarily suspending its investigation into Santa Clara County’s ban on leaded aviation fuel as part of a February 8 agreement between the agency and county officials.

Under the memorandum of understanding, the FAA agreed to halt its investigation of alleged grant assurance violations at Santa Clara County Airports for six months. Meanwhile, the county and its two airports—Reid Hillview Airport and San Martin Airport—will participate in a nationwide study to find best practices for an unleaded future. According to the memorandum, the county has 60 days to develop an action plan to address the common goal of operating the airports in a safe condition.

The new agreement comes more than a year after Santa Clara County became the first in the nation to ban leaded aviation fuel at its two airports—a move which drew backlash from several GA associations. Many argued that premature phasing out of 100LL would be a danger to pilots accidentally misfuelling their aircraft and have a significant impact on safety.

According to Santa Clara County, “Despite the unavailability of leaded avgas for sale at the airports since January 2022, the number of general aviation operations and aircraft based at the airports has remained constant. The county is unaware of any safety incidents caused by the unavailability of leaded avgas for purchase since the transition.”

However, the county’s statement contradicts reports of at least one misfuelling and one accident related to the fuel ban—something that was brought up during a recent congressional hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) grilled Acting FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Dave Boulter on what the agency is doing about the ban and the safety issues bound to occur. “If you’re going to have a public airport you’ve got to provide the fuel and other services. Yet the FAA is allowing airports to ban the fuel for political reasons; it has nothing to do with science. What’s the FAA going to do about it?” Perry questioned.  

The compromise between the FAA and Santa Clara County is a step forward in advancing the industry’s goal to achieve a lead-free future by 2030. According to the FAA, the demonstration project is set to begin later this year and will collect data and develop best practices as the country’s fleet of 200,000 piston aircraft transition to unleaded fuel.

 A small number of other GA airports will also participate in the demonstration project. The FAA also stated the county “will address airfield safety and land-use issues” at the two airports.

“The County and the FAA both want the County’s airports operating in the safest and most efficient manner, which includes eliminating the threat of lead exposure,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams. “We look forward to working towards these shared goals with the FAA in a more collaborative fashion.”

Amelia Walsh
Amelia WalshContributor
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

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