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Canada Aviation fuel shortage grounds Canadian pilots, flight schools

17:22  05 march  2018
17:22  05 march  2018 Source:   calgaryherald.com

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Thousands of general aviation pilots across Canada continue to be affected as a nationwide fuel shortage enters its third week.

On Feb. 13, Imperial Oil notified Transport Canada about possible quality-control issues with aviation gasoline produced at its Strathcona refinery near Edmonton since Dec. 28 — specifically concerning the fuel’s electrical conductivity, potentially causing the aircraft’s on-board fuel gauge sensors to display incorrect readings.

Aviation gasoline, also known as avgas or 100LL (low lead) is primarily used in smaller, piston-driven aircraft and helicopters.

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Commercial jets, turboprop airliners and turbine-engined helicopters use jet fuel and are unaffected by this advisory.

While some larger airports purchase avgas from American suppliers, Imperial’s Strathcona refinery is Canada’s sole production source of general aviation fuel.

Transport Canada has since issued a nationwide notice, prompting airports across the country to halt sales of avgas and quarantine their remaining supplies until testing can take place.

While some fuel stocks have been tested and deemed fit for use, airports across the country are still reporting sales of avgas will be on hold until further notice.

Carter Mann, manager of government affairs and communications for the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), said the situation has been devastating for their 16,000 members across the country.

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“It’s certainly a concern to us, obviously with the fact there’s only one supplier for the whole country,” he said.

“This affects not just recreational flyers, but nighttime newspaper deliveries, medevac flights and flight schools — they’ve had to shut down operations.”

As many aviation engines require leaded fuel to operate safely, simply substituting automotive gasoline isn’t an option, he said.

Initiatives to develop a lead-free fuel capable of being burned without modifying existing aircraft are underway south of the border — a move COPA endorses.

Imperial spokeswoman Laura Bishop said progress is being made on testing fuel already delivered to airports, but provided no timeline on when avgas production would resume.

She said that while much of the fuel tested has been cleared for use, some airports were forced to quarantine their supplies.

That includes the municipal airport in Three Hills, forced to shut down its pumps two weeks ago after fuel stores failed quality tests.

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Airport manager Dennis Fox told Postmedia arrangements are underway to drain and eventually replace the nearly 2,700 litres of unfit avgas in their storage tanks, but doesn’t know when they’ll be able to start selling again.

“They’re hoping to remove it this week,” he said.

“But I’ve got no information on when the resupply will be available.”

Owned by the Town of Three Hills, the airport relies on revenues from selling avgas to both to local operators and passing pilots dropping by to refuel.

Fox said fuel sales in February were nonexistent, owing to poor weather keeping planes out of the area.

“Just when the weather got really nice, our fuel was quarantined,” he said.

Prairie Aviation Training Center, a flight school based at the Three Hills airport, has likewise grounded planes due to a lack of fuel.

“We were down for about eight days of beautiful weather,” said program director Kalvin Hildebrandt.

“The real frustration for most of us is a lack of communication — (Imperial) just said to quarantine the fuel, but they didn’t say anything about the fuel in the airplanes.”

He said the school’s resorted to — at great expense — arrange for fuel shipments from as far away as Drumheller until local supplies resume.

Associated with nearby Prairie College, the flight school operates a fleet of eight aircraft for 24 students — many of whom he says are being left in limbo.

“We’ve been having students sitting around, they’re paying room and board at the college,” he said. “It’s definitely having an impact.”

bpassifiume@postmedia.com
On Twitter: @bryanpassifiume

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