25 APRIL 2011

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Article from BTNews 25 APRIL 2011

COMMENT: No more UK light aviation?

There was a rumour going around several weeks ago that the UK was running out of avgas, which is the aviation fuel used to power piston-engine aircraft.  Unlike petrol (mogas) avgas has added tetra-ethyl lead (TEL), a toxic substance used to enhance combustion stability.  The crisis was averted and now if you want to take on fuel at a (limited) number of airports it is currently no problem.

Unlike in World War II when tens of thousands of aircraft flew on avgas today its use around the world is minimal, and commercially of little value to the mammoth oil companies.

Of scheduled operators in the United Kingdom only Aurigny and Blue Islands in the Channel Islands, Loganair in Scotland and Skybus in the Scillies have a requirement for their Britten-Norman aircraft.  The professional pilot ab initio training schools and flying clubs are in need, likewise the small aircraft business user and private aviator.

At present the cost of UK avgas is around £1.80 per litre, enough to make your eyes water, and gives the impression that British petrol pump fuel is cheap at £1.32. 

However unlike with cars, where the rush to buy diesel vehicles is becoming a stampede, with aircraft this is not the case.  As things stand, the only manufacturer of any consequence in the market is the Austrian founded Diamond Aircraft Company but there are very big doubts over its future.  The market for aircraft diesel engines is tiny, and fraught with legislative problems.  Small jet engines are a much better commercial consideration. 

Here are some examples of piston-engined aircraft.

To operate a four-seat Piper PA28 series aircraft (Warrior) costs about £60 per hour and the two-seat Cessna 150 £40 per hour just in fuel, let alone engineering and finance/depreciation charges.  The DC3, as flown by the RAF Memorial Flight, is around £680 and the Air Atlantique DC6 £2,700.  Just to taxi the four-engined Douglas aircraft to the end of the runway and back with only two motors running burns £250 worth of avgas.

In the United States, with its huge general aviation base the situation is not so serious as regards supply but here the prices are creeping up, now at an average of US$1.15 per litre (70p).

The amount of revenue realised to the British Treasury from this aviation tax is minimal.  Unless the whole situation is reviewed, and pretty quickly, it seems to AERBT, that piston engined aircraft will become extinct in the United Kingdom with the possible exception of the Royal Air Force who will cough up and pay, knowing full well that the money involved comes from the same source.  The flying clubs will fold and every single prospective commercial pilot will need to go abroad for his basic training. 

The Chancellor needs to look at the way light aircraft are taxed as a matter of urgency.  Farmers and people in the construction business gain benefit (by way of specially coloured cheap diesel fuel).  Surely it would be possible to introduce something along the same lines for general aviation.  Over the years it has more than pulled its weight for the country.  Now it needs some help in return.

Malcolm Ginsberg

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