Recall of flawed aviation fuel grounds private planes in East FAA says 'no safety risk' is associated with action

November 28, 1998|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Private planes along the East Coast -- including hundreds at small airports in Maryland -- are temporarily grounded while Exxon officials recall aviation fuel that failed a specification test.

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration were quick yesterday to emphasize that the fuel problem was not connected to the recent crashes of two airplanes and a police helicopter that claimed two lives and injured several other people.

"There is no safety risk with the fuel being recalled," said James Peters of the FAA. "The only effects are long term, and that is reflected in the voluntary status of the groundings."

Clean fuel is expected to replace the contaminated gas by tomorrow, officials said.

The Maryland airports affected are Martin State Airport in Middle River and privately operated facilities in Salisbury, Cambridge, Ocean City, Edgewater, Frederick, Indian Head, Mitchellville and Gaithersburg.

The Maryland State Police MedEvac helicopters based at Martin and Baltimore County's police choppers are equipped with jet engines and burn a higher grade of fuel than that being recalled.

On Tuesday, Exxon Corp. notified 20 airports in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania that more than 100,000 gallons of "avgas" used by propeller planes and some helicopters failed a copper-strip test.

That test, federal officials said, indicated a low level of sulfur in the fuel distributed Nov. 17 from a plant in Pennsauken, N.J.

Yesterday, the number of airports notified about the contaminated fuel grew to include some in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. That fuel was shipped from East Providence, R.I.

The fuel was supplied by Exxon exchange partner Texaco, Exxon spokesman David Gardner said yesterday in Houston.

At the Martin airport, Assistant Airport Manager Al Pollard said more than 70 aircraft were "defueled" and would be refilled by tomorrow with new fuel shipped by Exxon.

NTC "Actually, some pilots chose to fly in spite of the warnings we gave," Pollard said. "Those still flying said they have not noticed any difference in their aircraft's performance."

When Martin received the notice from Exxon, employees worked through Thanksgiving to notify owners and pilots of the fuel recall and to get new fuel into the defueled planes.

More than 250 aircraft are kept at Martin but not all received the tainted fuel, Pollard said.

Pub Date: 11/28/98

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