Alternative Energy: Impact On General Aviation

The rising cost of aviation fuel has undoubtedly had an impact on flying habits in general aviation. We’re determined to uncover some of the effects, and are offering $1 Avgas to find out. For most of October (unfortunately the promotion was cut short due to overwhelming demand), Brown Aviation, Redbird and a consortium of other great industry partners are dropping the price of Avgas to $1.00 a gallon. This will provide us with data on Avgas costs and the fuel shortage. But, as new technology and alternative energy methods become mainstream could there be a lasting effect on the Avgas fuel shortage and bright skies ahead for general aviation pilots? 

Recently, the company behind Solar Impulse, the first solar airplane capable of flying day and night without using any fuel, announced it is partnering with Google to help promote its goal of circumnavigating the globe in 2015 using only solar energy.  Inspirational indeed, but the Solar Impulse generates roughly the same power as a small scooter, and the practicality for general aviation has not yet been realized.  Still it is encouraging to see a company like Google join the movement, which will only bring more attention to the need for alternative energy methods and the Avgas fuel shortage. 

Putting the inspirational aside, is there a solution for the expensive and diminishing supply of Avgas on the short-term horizon? Possibly...

After years of development Cessna announced its Cessna JT-A version of the 182. “The airplane is powered by a Safran SMA diesel engine...It burns just 11 gallons per hour while delivering 227 horsepower.” This would offer pilots improved fuel efficiency, burning 30 to 40% less fuel than comparable avgas engines.  Deliveries of the aircraft were set to begin later this year, however an engine failure in August delayed the launch. Still the Cessna JT-A offers pilots the opportunity to fill their tanks with fuel other than Avgas, with more sustainable and cleaner energy options. While the Cessna JT-A isn’t a true solution for eliminating the need of fossil fuel to power flight it is certainly helping the industry climb closer to its cruising altitude. 

But what about cost effective and energy efficient options for your flight training program? 

We’ve joined forces with Redbird Flight Simulators and other industry partners in the RedHawk project. The goal of the program is to bring the industry more affordable training aircraft through a combination of new and existing technology. The RedHawk 101 is a highly modified Cessna 172, completely refreshed inside and out, including the pairing of a Continental Centurion diesel engine. The Continental diesel engine helps to solve the issue of Avgas shortages and provides an efficient energy option for your flight training program needs.   

This is a discussion that is far from over. The general aviation industry has identified the need for energy options other than Avgas and it is encouraging to see players like Cessna and Solar Impulse bring solutions to the table. I believe it is important for us all to keep an eye on the inspirational while focusing on the practical. What Cessna, RedHawk and others has done is offer the industry an interim option for Avgas, which keeps the energy options for general aviation moving forward. On the other hand, the Solar Impulse team shows us all what’s in the near distant future. And by getting the attention of a player like Google hopefully this means we will see solar energy solutions for flight in our lifetime.