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Why lead still falls from sky at Montgomery airport

Swift Fuels gas too costly to ship, airplanes not ready

Montgomery-Gibbs airport still uses avgas, the only remaining lead-containing transportation fuel. - Image by jstalmer
Montgomery-Gibbs airport still uses avgas, the only remaining lead-containing transportation fuel.

A plan to bring Kearny Mesa's aging Montgomery Gibbs airport into the 21st century misses the mark on one count.

The airport, one of the nation’s busiest, still uses avgas (aviation gas), the only remaining lead-containing transportation fuel and the biggest airborne contributor to lead emissions in the U.S.

A potent neurotoxin, lead builds up in the body with each exposure, putting everyone in the flight path of the small planes at risk.

Officials say a switch to unleaded will take another 4-5 years.

"We really want to see unleaded fuel at the airport," Airports deputy director Jorge Rubio told the city council in April when a new lease was approved.

Montgomery exposure area

A fuel farm at the southeast corner "is a little antiquated, it needs to be brought up to the modern world."

While the lease has no requirement to phase out avgas or introduce unleaded fuel, the developer, MYF Properties, a subsidiary of Crownair Aviation – an airport tenant – has proposed leaving enough space for a tank that will hold "a future fuel."

But residents of Kearny Mesa, Serra Mesa, and Clairemont, the communities most affected, are tired of waiting for the future. Unleaded aviation fuel has been available since 2015.

Currently, Indiana-based Swift Fuels offers the only commercially available unleaded avgas sold in the U.S. One California city – San Carlos in the Bay Area – is now using its unleaded fuel.

Why can't San Diego be next?

According to city documents, planes at Montgomery-Gibbs emit 1.4 metric tons of toxic lead each year.

Airports using unleaded Swift fuel

"In 4 or 5 years that will accumulate to another 4 to 5 tons of toxic lead particles spewed into the air," commented Sandra Stahl, co-founder of the Montgomery-Gibbs Environmental Coalition.

Children are particularly vulnerable to its effects on the brain, and there are at least six schools within a mile of the air field.

Opponents say there's no reason to wait for the supplier, Phillips Petroleum, to develop an unleaded version since Swift Fuels already has one.

Chris D’Acosta, Swift Fuels CEO, says in an email that their unleaded avgas is priced commercially competitive to low lead avgas. It's sold wholesale – "we have no control over retail prices of avgas sold at airport FBOs."

It would require its own separate fuel tank, which Councilmember Raul Campillo proposed as a 2022 budget item, but it was voted down.

Stahl says in an email that the city has ignored the coalition's concerns, despite support letters in 2018 from the Clairemont Town Council and the Serra Mesa Planning Group, asking that unleaded fuel be offered.

Real Estate Assets Department – which oversees the airport – responded to the coalition, saying "city staff do not believe competing with the private sector or replacing the private sector for fuel services is a prudent business decision."

To Stahl, it seems "business and money takes precedence over the health of people and especially children living in the community."

Rubio cited reasons why the toxic fuel isn't being updated along with the redevelopment. He told the council the costs of transporting Swift Fuels to San Diego "apparently are going to be astronomical."

There's no demand for that fuel now, he added, "because the aircraft will need to be certified by the fuel provider and a mechanic to assure the fuel is safe for aviation."

Mixing fuels could be a safety issue for the airport's 400 or so pilots, who might not find the same unleaded fuel when refueling at a different airport.

"I know constituents want it, and the developer has set that space aside so when the fuel is readily available, we'll be able to provide it," he said.

"We as a city cannot do it, we let the professionals who deal with fueling services handle the fueling business."

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Montgomery-Gibbs airport still uses avgas, the only remaining lead-containing transportation fuel. - Image by jstalmer
Montgomery-Gibbs airport still uses avgas, the only remaining lead-containing transportation fuel.

A plan to bring Kearny Mesa's aging Montgomery Gibbs airport into the 21st century misses the mark on one count.

The airport, one of the nation’s busiest, still uses avgas (aviation gas), the only remaining lead-containing transportation fuel and the biggest airborne contributor to lead emissions in the U.S.

A potent neurotoxin, lead builds up in the body with each exposure, putting everyone in the flight path of the small planes at risk.

Officials say a switch to unleaded will take another 4-5 years.

"We really want to see unleaded fuel at the airport," Airports deputy director Jorge Rubio told the city council in April when a new lease was approved.

Montgomery exposure area

A fuel farm at the southeast corner "is a little antiquated, it needs to be brought up to the modern world."

While the lease has no requirement to phase out avgas or introduce unleaded fuel, the developer, MYF Properties, a subsidiary of Crownair Aviation – an airport tenant – has proposed leaving enough space for a tank that will hold "a future fuel."

But residents of Kearny Mesa, Serra Mesa, and Clairemont, the communities most affected, are tired of waiting for the future. Unleaded aviation fuel has been available since 2015.

Currently, Indiana-based Swift Fuels offers the only commercially available unleaded avgas sold in the U.S. One California city – San Carlos in the Bay Area – is now using its unleaded fuel.

Why can't San Diego be next?

According to city documents, planes at Montgomery-Gibbs emit 1.4 metric tons of toxic lead each year.

Airports using unleaded Swift fuel

"In 4 or 5 years that will accumulate to another 4 to 5 tons of toxic lead particles spewed into the air," commented Sandra Stahl, co-founder of the Montgomery-Gibbs Environmental Coalition.

Children are particularly vulnerable to its effects on the brain, and there are at least six schools within a mile of the air field.

Opponents say there's no reason to wait for the supplier, Phillips Petroleum, to develop an unleaded version since Swift Fuels already has one.

Chris D’Acosta, Swift Fuels CEO, says in an email that their unleaded avgas is priced commercially competitive to low lead avgas. It's sold wholesale – "we have no control over retail prices of avgas sold at airport FBOs."

It would require its own separate fuel tank, which Councilmember Raul Campillo proposed as a 2022 budget item, but it was voted down.

Stahl says in an email that the city has ignored the coalition's concerns, despite support letters in 2018 from the Clairemont Town Council and the Serra Mesa Planning Group, asking that unleaded fuel be offered.

Real Estate Assets Department – which oversees the airport – responded to the coalition, saying "city staff do not believe competing with the private sector or replacing the private sector for fuel services is a prudent business decision."

To Stahl, it seems "business and money takes precedence over the health of people and especially children living in the community."

Rubio cited reasons why the toxic fuel isn't being updated along with the redevelopment. He told the council the costs of transporting Swift Fuels to San Diego "apparently are going to be astronomical."

There's no demand for that fuel now, he added, "because the aircraft will need to be certified by the fuel provider and a mechanic to assure the fuel is safe for aviation."

Mixing fuels could be a safety issue for the airport's 400 or so pilots, who might not find the same unleaded fuel when refueling at a different airport.

"I know constituents want it, and the developer has set that space aside so when the fuel is readily available, we'll be able to provide it," he said.

"We as a city cannot do it, we let the professionals who deal with fueling services handle the fueling business."

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Comments
1

Montgomery-Gibbs emit 1.4 metric tons of toxic lead each year. and to the city crooks and small number of people who keep gassing up and emitting this crap all over a much larger population of people below, puck you!

June 30, 2021

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