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County Airports Invited to Participate in Federal Demonstration Project on Transitioning Airports Nationwide to a Lead-Free Future

The Federal Aviation Administration also agreed to suspend an investigation of alleged violations at the airports including those related to the availability of leaded aviation fuel

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has invited County-owned and operated Reid-Hillview and San Martin airports to participate in a first-ever demonstration project that will study best practices for transitioning airports nationwide to unleaded aviation fuel. 
The invitation is part of a memorandum of understanding that the County signed with the FAA on February 7 that suspended an ongoing FAA investigation into alleged grant violations at the two airports and sets forth a framework for participation in the demonstration project.
The demonstration project will study airports around the country in various stages of transition to unleaded aviation gas, or avgas, to better understand how airports can implement the change in a safe and efficient manner. While 100 octane leaded avgas is the most-used fuel for piston-engine aircraft, it is also the single largest source of airborne lead emissions in the nation, representing 70 percent of lead released into the environment. 
The County of Santa Clara banned the sale of leaded avgas at County airports effective January 2022 after a County-commissioned study found higher levels of lead in thousands of children living in the area around Reid-Hillview in East San José.
The demonstration project will provide an overview of the challenges and opportunities for airports and identify best practices, guidelines, and tools to help individual airports across the nation effect the transition. The demonstration project will be conducted by the Airport Cooperative Research Program, which is an industry-driven, applied research program sponsored by the FAA and managed by the Transportation Research Board. It is expected to begin this year. Once the scope of the demonstration project and the County’s obligations are known, the County will decide whether to accept this invitation.
Reid-Hillview Airport and San Martin Airport are the only general aviation airports in the country to transition to the exclusive sale of unleaded avgas. Both airports now exclusively carry 94-octane unleaded avgas and jet fuel, and expect to be among the first in the nation to sell 100-octane unleaded avgas when it becomes available this year. 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 have remained constant. The County is unaware of any safety incidents caused by the unavailability of leaded avgas for purchase since the transition.
“When the County banned the sale of leaded aviation gas at our airports, we did so to protect the health of those who live in our community, especially children, who have been unjustly exposed to harmful pollution for decades,” said County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who represents the area surrounding Reid-Hillview Airport. “We would welcome the opportunity to showcase what we have done here in Santa Clara County, which can and should be replicated across the country.”
The MOU also suspends for six months an FAA investigation that alleges violations of grant assurances the County made to the FAA as a condition of accepting federal grant money. The investigation, which the FAA initiated in December 2021, involved several issues including the County’s transition to the exclusive sale of unleaded avgas as well as other conditions at the 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 County Counsel James R. Williams. “We look forward to working towards these shared goals with the FAA in a more collaborative fashion.”
The MOU does not affect the complaint filed with the FAA by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association alleging grant violations relating to the County’s transition to the exclusive sale of unleaded avgas. 
The County lead study, released in August 2021 and recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, linked ongoing use of leaded aviation gas with elevated lead exposure for the 13,000 children living near Reid-Hillview. The EPA has recognized that lead exposure can have serious and irreversible human health impacts, and has recently proposed to make an official determination that lead emissions from avgas endanger human health and welfare. The FAA has also recognized the need to transition the piston-engine fleet from leaded avgas, and recently announced a government-industry partnership named Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions (EAGLE) with the goal of ending the use of leaded avgas by 2030.  Visit the County’s website for more information on the Airborne Lead Study.

The County of Santa Clara government serves a diverse, multi-cultural population of 1.9 million residents in Santa Clara County, California, making it more populous than 14 states in the U.S. The County provides essential services to its residents, including public health protection, environmental stewardship, medical services through the County of Santa Clara Health System, child and adult protection services, homelessness prevention and solutions, roads, park services, libraries, emergency response to disasters, protection of minority communities and those under threat, access to a fair criminal justice system, and many other public benefits.

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