The fuel systems of thousands of general aviation aircraft in Australia could be permanently damaged by corrosion and require replacement because of the ongoing aviation gas crisis there. There is also the possibility of further aircraft groundings following the discovery of contaminated aircraft outside the original exposed area.

More than half of Australia's piston-engined light aircraft on the country's eastern seaboard remain grounded following the discovery of an unknown "white gel" contaminant in fuel produced late last year by Mobil Australia's Altona refinery, near Melbourne (Flight International, 18-24 January).

Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) will not allow the affected aircraft to resume flying until a proven test has been developed for the contaminant, which is corrosive to copper, brass and aluminium. If contaminant-related corrosion reaches components such as fuel lines, pumps and tanks, some models of aircraft may be so seriously affected that replacement would be cheaper than repair, the industry believes.

Three contaminated aircraft have been identified outside the area of those grounded, and CASA has indicated that, if any of these are found to be affected, the grounding is likely to be extended.

CASA also warns that the crisis may require a major rethink of international testing standards for aircraft fuels. The crisis was initially sparked early this month by the detection of a black clotted compound in some aircraft fuel tanks. That compound has been identified as a form of the ethylene di-amine (EDA) fuel contaminant. The second contaminant - the white gel - has yet to be identified, with several different forms of the same compound being detected. Initial analysis by Mobil suggests the compound could be a carbonate of EDA, although independent testing has discounted this.

The origin of the contamination is believed to be a cleaning agent used on refinery plumbing systems when the processing is changed from one fuel to another.

Mobil Oil Australia faces extensive legal claims, including a class action by members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and a claim by the Sydney-based Combined Aviation Services group. The crisis is estimated to be costing the Australian aviation industry A$5 million ($3.33 million) a day.

Mobil Oil Australia has established a A$15 million financial hardship fund for affected operators, while the Australian Government is expected to set up a separate relief scheme.

Source: Flight International