Pilots, flight instructors say province’s push for unleaded fuel is premature and could have limited impact

While Santa Clara County has touted its ban on leaded jet fuel as an environmental achievement, pilots and flight instructors say the action was too hasty and did little to improve the health of neighbors at the airport.

Some even suggested that the ban is nothing more than a ploy to speed up the potential eviction from San Jose’s Reid-Hillview County Airport.

“It’s just their way of slowly closing the airport,” said Chris Leipelt, a student at San Jose State University’s aviation program, which operates out of Reid-Hillview. “I don’t know if they want to make it more difficult. Maybe it’s just a polite way to kick them out.”

Since the ban on the sale of leaded aircraft gas at Reid-Hillview and San Martin airports on Jan. 1, the province has allowed only unleaded fuel to be pumped at both airports. The specialty fuel, known as UL 94, first became available in August and can be used in about 80% of the aircraft at Reid-Hillview, according to Walt Gyger, owner of Trade Winds Aviation’s flying school.

Those planes tend to be the smaller, less performing planes used for flight training at Reid-Hillview. Two of the four flight schools operating there use the new fuel.

As for the 20% of pilots whose planes only use leaded gas, but want to continue flying from county airports, will need to refuel at airports in Watsonville, Palo Alto, Hayward, Livermore, Hollister and Vacaville.

Paul Marshall, who uses San Martin Airport, is one of those pilots and he now plans to refuel his Bonanza A36 at Hollister Municipal Airport, although that means more gas fumes are being emitted these days.

“The starting phase is intensive (on gas consumption),” he said. “It dumps 50 to 80 percent extra fuel. And that, of course, is leaded fuel. Really, it would be more ecologically efficient to fuel those planes in San Martin.”

SAN JOSE, CA – Jan. 18: Hayward pilot Sal Khan disembarks from a Cessna plane at Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose, California, on Jan. 18, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

Marshall said that while he applauds the county for encouraging the use of unleaded fuel, it has not been done properly.

“Aviation really needs to switch,” he said. “It’s a good thing. But I don’t agree with the way they’re doing it. They’re a bit early at the start. They stand out in that regard.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.