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August 24, 2012
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Testing shows Truckee airport fuel in Aug. 2 fatal plane crash met international regulations

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Additional laboratory testing on fuel sold to Truckee Tahoe Airport prior to a fatal single-engine plane crash earlier this month found it to be in compliance with international regulations, officials said Thursday.

World Fuels, Truckee Tahoe Airport's Chevron distributor, recently had samples of its July 20 fuel shipment to the airport tested by Inspectorate, an independent laboratory in Torrance, Calif., after previous surveys by a separate company indicated the fuel had substandard octane levels.

The tests were made following the Aug. 2 plane crash at the airport that killed 66-year-old James R. Ungar of Yreka, Calif., the cause of which is still unknown. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident, said Ian Gregor, a spokesperson for the FAA, in a previous story.

Shortly after the accident, Truckee Tahoe Airport contacted World Fuels for a lab recommendation on where to have the July 20 fuel shipment tested, which was sold at the airport between July 20 and Aug. 2, and was referred to Saybolt Lp, in Martinez, Calif.

“Fuel sampling and testing after aircraft incidents is standard airport operating procedure,” according to press release by the Truckee Tahoe Airport District.

Initial tests of the 100 Low Lead fuel on Aug. 5 indicated a “slight discrepancy” in its octane content, according to the airport. Octane content needs to be at a 99.7 rating in order to meet international regulations for aviation gasoline — results of a small sample of the July 20 delivery showed the content to be at a 97 octane rating.

Due to the discrepancy, World Fuels replaced the airport's fuel on Aug. 6 and Aug. 7.

“They (World Fuels) were still maintaining that they didn't feel anything was wrong with the fuel,” said Kevin Smith, general manager of Truckee Tahoe Airport, at Thursday's airport district board of directors meeting in Truckee.

World Fuels is federally regulated, so before it ships any fuel, the company tests it to ensure it's in compliance with international specifications and attaches a certificate of analysis stating as such.

“They swapped it out to get us going, and also they wanted to run their own tests,” Smith said.

While Truckee Tahoe Airport waited for World Fuels to get its own tests results from Inspectorate, the airport decided to contact its customers.

“The airport had an obligation to inform our customers that the fuel purchased between July 20 and Aug. 2 could have potential octane discrepancy,” Smith said. “Potential, because World Fuels was saying we need to do additional testing.”

Approximately 130 customers had the fuel in their airplanes, Smith said, including Ungar's Piper Comanche 250. The airport began to notify customers early Aug. 8, after Saybolt re-tested its fuel sample, confirming its Aug. 5 findings.

“You did a good job,” Jim Morrison, an airport board member, told Smith and other airport staff, a sentiment echoed by other board members.

But one meeting attendee disagreed.

“My concern, to be honest with you, is my plane was fueled with that, and my wife's plane, and we weren't contacted on Wednesday (Aug. 8) or on Thursday (Aug. 9),” said Rob Lober, of Crystal Bay. “Only until I called the airport on Thursday and was told, ‘Oh, yeah, you're on the list, we're getting to you.' I think there was a lack of urgency on this, so, sorry, I don't go for the kudos on job well done.”

After the meeting, Smith discussed the issue in an interview.

“There's a lot of people that said we didn't call them, but that's because they had heard — we did e-blasts and got word out,” he said. “The idea is that you get word out so people will know and then we'll either call them or they'll call us. So, yeah, we didn't call him, but we didn't call him because he called us and we told him the information.”

Smith said airport staff learned many lessons from this experience, among which: how to best notify customers in the event of a fuel quality control or safety issue.

As for how initial tests by Saybolt showed a discrepancy with the fuel's octane rating, Smith said it could have been caused by several factors, such as how the samples were stored and the lab's testing protocols.

“We're confident in our fuel here now and we're confident in the quality control in the airport,” Smith said.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 24, 2012 07:27PM Published Aug 24, 2012 07:25PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.