Aviation fuel

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An aviation fuel truck Shell Refueller.JPG
An aviation fuel truck
At some airports, underground fuel pipes allow refueling without the need for tank trucks. Trucks carry the necessary hoses and pumping equipment, but no fuel. Jet a1 truck refueling dsc04316.jpg
At some airports, underground fuel pipes allow refueling without the need for tank trucks. Trucks carry the necessary hoses and pumping equipment, but no fuel.

Aviation fuels are petroleum-based fuels, or petroleum and synthetic fuel blends, used to power aircraft. They have more stringent requirements than fuels used for ground use, such as heating and road transport, and contain additives to enhance or maintain properties important to fuel performance or handling. They are kerosene-based (JP-8 and Jet A-1) for gas turbine-powered aircraft. Piston-engined aircraft use leaded gasoline and those with diesel engines may use jet fuel (kerosene). [1] By 2012, all aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force had been certified to use a 50-50 blend of kerosene and synthetic fuel derived from coal or natural gas as a way of stabilizing the cost of fuel. [2]


Specific energy (energy per unit mass) is an important criterion in selecting fuel for an aircraft. The much higher energy storage capability of hydrocarbon fuels compared to batteries has so far prevented electric aircraft from using electric batteries as the main propulsion energy store becoming viable for most small personal aircraft. However, the first BEV aircraft was certified in 2018.

As aviation moves into the renewables era, hydrogen-powered aircraft, biofuels, and batteries might enter common use.

Types of aviation fuel

Conventional aviation fuels

Jet fuel

Ground fueling of a MiG-29 from a URAL tanker (2011) Mig-29 refueling.jpg
Ground fueling of a MiG-29 from a URAL tanker (2011)

Jet fuel is a clear to straw-colored fuel, based on either an unleaded kerosene (Jet A-1), or a naphtha-kerosene blend (Jet B). Similar to diesel fuel, it can be used in either compression ignition engines or turbine engines. [1]

Jet-A powers modern commercial airliners and is a mix of extremely refined kerosene and burns at temperatures at or above 49 °C (120 °F). Kerosene-based fuel has a much higher flash point than gasoline-based fuel, meaning that it requires significantly higher temperature to ignite. It is a high-quality fuel; if it fails the purity and other quality tests for use on jet aircraft, it is sold to ground-based users with less demanding requirements, such as railroads. [3]


Avgas (aviation gasoline) is used by small aircraft, light helicopters and vintage piston-engined aircraft. Its formulation is distinct from the conventional gasoline (UK: petrol, or "aviation spirit" in this context) used in motor vehicles which is commonly called mogas or autogas in aviation context. [4] Although it comes in many different grades, its octane rating is higher than that for "regular" motor gasoline.

Emerging aviation fuels


Alternatives to conventional fossil-based aviation fuels, new fuels made via the biomass to liquid method (like sustainable aviation fuel) and certain straight vegetable oils can also be used. [5]

Fuels such as sustainable aviation fuel have the advantage that few or no modifications are necessary on the aircraft itself, provided that the fuel characteristics meet specifications for lubricity and density as well as adequately swelling elastomer seals in current aircraft fuel systems. [6] Sustainable aviation fuel and blends of fossil and sustainably-sourced alternative fuels yield lower emissions of particles [7] and GHGs. They are, however, not being used heavily, because they still face political, technological, and economic barriers, such as currently being more expensive than conventionally produced aviation fuels by a wide margin. [8] [9] [10]

Compressed natural gas and liquified natural gas

Compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquified natural gas (LNG) are fuel feedstocks that aircraft may use in the future. Studies have been done on the feasibility of using natural gas [11] and include the "SUGAR Freeze" aircraft under NASA's N+4 Advanced Concept Development program (made by Boeing's Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research (SUGAR) team). The Tupolev Tu-155 was an alternative fuel testbed which was fuelled on LNG. [12] The low specific energy of natural gas even in liquid form compared to conventional fuels gives it a distinct disadvantage for flight applications.[ citation needed ]

Liquid hydrogen

Hydrogen can be used largely free of carbon emissions, if it is produced with power from renewable energy like wind and solar power.

Some development of technology for hydrogen-powered aircraft started after the millennium and gained track since about 2020, but as of 2022 was still far away from outright aircraft product development.

Hydrogen fuel cells do not produce CO2 or other emissions (besides water). However, hydrogen combustion does produce NOx emissions. Cryogenic hydrogen can be used as a liquid at temperatures below 20 K. Gaseous hydrogen involves pressurized tanks at 250–350 bar. [13] With materials available in the 2020s, the mass of tanks strong enough to withstand this kind of high pressure will greatly outweigh the hydrogen fuel itself, largely negating the weight to energy advantage of hydrogen fuel over hydrocarbon fuels. Hydrogen has a severe volumetric disadvantage relative to hydrocarbon fuels, but future blended wing body aircraft designs might be able to accommodate this extra volume without greatly expanding the wetted area.

Even if finally practical, the industry timeline for adopting hydrogen is fairly lengthy. Alternatives to conventional aviation fuel available in the near term include aviation biofuel and synthetically created fuel (aka "e-jet"). These fuels are collectively referred to as "Sustainable Aviation Fuel" (SAF).

Production of aviation fuel

The production of aviation fuel falls into two categories: fuel suitable for turbine engines and fuel suitable for spark-ignition piston engines. There are international specifications for each.

Jet fuel is a gas turbine fuel used in propeller and jet aircraft and helicopters. It has a low viscosity at low temperature, has limited ranges of density and calorific value, burns cleanly, and remains chemically stable when heated to high temperature. [14]

Aviation gasoline, often referred to as "avgas" or 100-LL (low-lead), is a highly refined form of gasoline for aircraft, with an emphasis on purity, anti-knock characteristics and minimization of spark plug fouling. Avgas must meet performance guidelines for both the rich mixture condition required for take-off power settings and the leaner mixtures used during cruise to reduce fuel consumption. Aviation fuel can be used as CNG fuel.

Avgas is sold in much lower volume than jet fuel, but to many more individual aircraft operators; whereas jet fuel is sold in high volume to large aircraft operators, such as airlines and militaries. [15]

Energy content

The net energy content for aviation fuels depends on their composition. Some typical values are: [16]


In performance calculations, airliner manufacturers use a density of jet fuel around 6.7 lb/US gal, 8.02 lb/ imp Gal or 0.8 kg/L.

Specific cases are:

Chemical composition

Aviation fuels consist of blends of over two thousand chemicals, primarily hydrocarbons (paraffins, olefins, naphthenes, and aromatics), additives such as antioxidants and metal deactivators, biocides, static reducers, icing inhibitors, corrosion inhibitors, and impurities. Principal components include n-heptane and isooctane. Like other fuels, aviation fuel for spark-ignited piston engines are described by their octane rating.

Alcohol, alcohol mixtures, and other alternative fuels may be used experimentally, but alcohol is not permitted in any certified aviation fuel specification. [19] In Brazil, the Embraer Ipanema EMB-202A is a version of the Ipanema agricultural aircraft with a modified Lycoming IO-540-K1J5 engine so as to be able to run on ethanol. Other aircraft engines that were modified to run on 100% ethanol were several other types of Lycoming engines (including the Lycoming 235N2C, and Lycoming IO-320 [20] ) [21] and certain Rotax engines. [22]


The Convention on International Civil Aviation (ICAO) (Chicago 1944, Article 24) exempts air fuels already loaded onto an aircraft on landing (and which remain on the aircraft) from import taxes. [23] Bi-lateral air services agreements govern the tax exemption of aviation fuels. [24] [ citation needed ] In the course of an EU initiative, many of these agreements have been modified to allow taxation.[ citation needed ] A motion for a European Parliament resolution on a European Strategy for Low-emission Mobility has stated that "the possibilities for harmonised international measures for kerosene taxation for aviation" needs to be explored. [25]

A worry is that a local aviation fuel tax would cause increased tankering, where airlines carry extra fuel from low tax jurisdictions. This extra weight increases fuel burn, thus a local fuel tax could potentially increase overall fuel consumption. [23] To avoid increased tankering, a worldwide aviation fuel tax has been proposed.[ by whom? ] Australia and the United States oppose a worldwide aviation fuel tax, but a number of other countries have expressed interest.[ citation needed ]

During a debate in the UK Parliament, the forgone tax income due to the exemption of tax on aviation fuel was estimated at £10 billion annually. [26]

The planned inclusion of international aviation into the European Union Emission Trading Scheme in 2014 has been called an "illegal tax" by countries including the US and China, which cite the Chicago Convention. [27]


Fuels have to conform to a specification in order to be approved for use in type certificated aircraft. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) developed specifications for automobile gasoline as well as aviation gasoline. These specifications are ASTM D910 and ASTM D6227 for aviation gasoline and ASTM D439 or ASTM D4814 (latest revision) for automobile gasoline.

In use

Aviation fuel storage tanks at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, Texas AvFuelHoustonTXBush.JPG
Aviation fuel storage tanks at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, Texas

Aviation fuel generally arrives at the airport via pipeline systems, such as the CEPS. It is then pumped over and dispensed from a tanker or bowser. The fuel is then driven up to parked aircraft and helicopters. Some airports have pumps similar to filling stations to which aircraft must taxi. Some airports have permanent piping to parking areas for large aircraft.

Aviation fuel is transferred to an aircraft via one of two methods: overwing or underwing.


Refueling a HK36-TTC Super Dimona Refueling Diamond HK36-TTC.jpg
Refueling a HK36-TTC Super Dimona

Overwing fueling is used on smaller planes, helicopters, and all piston-engine aircraft. Overwing fueling is similar to car fueling  one or more fuel ports are opened and fuel is pumped in with a conventional pump.


Most widebody aircraft use a double single-point. Single-Point Fueling.jpg
Most widebody aircraft use a double single-point.

Underwing fueling, also called single-point refueling or pressure refueling where not dependent on gravity, is used on larger aircraft and for jet fuel exclusively.

For pressure refueling, a high-pressure hose is attached and fuel is pumped in at 275  kPa (40  psi) and a maximum of 310 kPa (45 psi) for most commercial aircraft. Pressure for military aircraft, especially fighters, ranges up to 415 kPa (60 psi). Air being displaced in the tanks is usually vented overboard through a single vent on the aircraft. Because there is only one attachment point, fuel distribution between tanks is either automated or it is controlled from a control panel at the fueling point or in the cockpit. An early use of pressure refueling was on the de Havilland Comet and Sud Aviation Caravelle. [28] Larger aircraft allow for two or more attachment points; however, this is still referred to as single-point refueling, as either attachment point can refuel all of the tanks. Multiple attachments allow for a faster flowrate.


Because of the danger of confusing the fuel types, precautions are taken to distinguish between avgas and jet fuel beyond clearly marking all containers, vehicles, and piping. The aperture on fuel tanks of aircraft requiring avgas cannot be greater than 60  millimetres in diameter. Avgas is often dyed and is dispensed from nozzles with a diameter of 40 mm (49 mm in the United States). [29] [30]

Jet fuel is clear to straw-colored, and is dispensed from a special nozzle called a J spout or duckbill that has a rectangular opening larger than 60 mm diagonally, so as not to fit into avgas ports. However, some jet and turbine aircraft, such as some models of the Astar helicopter, have a fueling port too small for the J spout, and thus require a smaller nozzle.[ citation needed ]

Forecasting demand

In recent years, fuel markets have become increasingly volatile. This, along with rapidly changing airline schedules and the desire to not carry excess fuel on board aircraft, has increased the importance of demand forecasting. In March 2022, Austin's Austin-Bergstrom International Airport came close to running out of fuel, potentially stranding aircraft. [31] Common forecasting techniques include tracking airline schedules and routes, expected distance flown, ground procedures, fuel efficiency of each aircraft and the impact of environmental factors like weather and temperature. [32]

Safety precautions

British Airways Airbus A321 being refueled Airbus A321-231 - British Airways - G-EUXH - EHAM (5).jpg
British Airways Airbus A321 being refueled

Any fueling operation can be very dangerous, and aviation operations have characteristics which must be accommodated. As an aircraft flies through the air, it can accumulate static electricity. If this is not dissipated before fueling, an electric arc could occur and ignite fuel vapors. To prevent this, aircraft are electrically bonded to the fueling apparatus before fueling begins, and are not disconnected until after fueling is complete. Some regions require the aircraft and/or fuel truck to be grounded too. [33] Pressure fueling systems incorporate a dead man's switch to preclude unmonitored operation.

Aviation fuel can cause severe environmental damage; all fueling vehicles must carry equipment to control fuel spills. Fire extinguishers must be present at any fueling operation. Airport firefighting forces are specially trained and equipped to handle aviation fuel fires and spills. Aviation fuel must be checked daily and before every flight for contaminants such as water or dirt.

Avgas is the only remaining lead-containing transportation fuel. Lead in avgas prevents damaging engine knock, or detonation, that can result in a sudden engine failure.

Refueling panorama gnangarra.jpg
A Carson Helicopters S-61N Fire King being refueled during firefighting operations in Southern River, Western Australia

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gasoline</span> Liquid fuel derived from petroleum

Gasoline or petrol is a transparent, slight yellowish petroleum-derived flammable liquid that is used primarily as a fuel in most spark-ignited internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. On average, U.S. refineries produce, from a barrel of crude oil, about 19 to 20 gallons of gasoline; 11 to 13 gallons of distillate fuel ; and 3 to 4 gallons of jet fuel. The product ratio depends on the processing in an oil refinery and the crude oil assay.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Diesel fuel</span> Liquid fuel used in diesel engines

Diesel fuel, also called diesel oil or historically heavy oil, is any liquid fuel specifically designed for use in a diesel engine, a type of internal combustion engine in which fuel ignition takes place without a spark as a result of compression of the inlet air and then injection of fuel. Therefore, diesel fuel needs good compression ignition characteristics.

An octane rating, or octane number, is a standard measure of a fuel's ability to withstand compression in an internal combustion engine without detonating. The higher the octane number, the more compression the fuel can withstand before detonating. Octane rating does not relate directly to the power output or the energy content of the fuel per unit mass or volume, but simply indicates gasoline's capability against compression.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Avgas</span> Aviation fuel

Avgas is an aviation fuel used in aircraft with spark-ignited internal combustion engines. Avgas is distinguished from conventional gasoline (petrol) used in motor vehicles, which is termed mogas in an aviation context. Unlike motor gasoline, which has been formulated since the 1970s to allow the use of platinum-content catalytic converters for pollution reduction, the most commonly used grades of avgas still contain tetraethyllead (TEL), a toxic substance used to prevent engine knocking. There are ongoing experiments aimed at eventually reducing or eliminating the use of TEL in aviation gasoline.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">RP-1</span> Highly refined form of kerosene used as rocket fuel

RP-1 (alternatively, Rocket Propellant-1 or Refined Petroleum-1) is a highly refined form of kerosene outwardly similar to jet fuel, used as rocket fuel. RP-1 provides a lower specific impulse than liquid hydrogen (LH2), but is cheaper, is stable at room temperature, and presents a lower explosion hazard. RP-1 is far denser than LH2, giving it a higher energy density (though its specific energy is lower). RP-1 also has a fraction of the toxicity and carcinogenic hazards of hydrazine, another room-temperature liquid fuel.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethanol fuel</span> One type of biofuel

Ethanol fuel is fuel containing ethyl alcohol, the same type of alcohol as found in alcoholic beverages. It is most often used as a motor fuel, mainly as a biofuel additive for gasoline.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Liquid fuel</span> Liquids that can be used to create energy

Liquid fuels are combustible or energy-generating molecules that can be harnessed to create mechanical energy, usually producing kinetic energy; they also must take the shape of their container. It is the fumes of liquid fuels that are flammable instead of the fluid. Most liquid fuels in widespread use are derived from fossil fuels; however, there are several types, such as hydrogen fuel, ethanol, and biodiesel, which are also categorized as a liquid fuel. Many liquid fuels play a primary role in transportation and the economy.

Methanol fuel is an alternative biofuel for internal combustion and other engines, either in combination with gasoline or independently. Methanol (CH3OH) is less expensive to produce sustainably than ethanol fuel, although it produces more toxic effects than ethanol and has lower energy density than gasoline. Methanol is safer for the environment than gasoline, it is an anti-freeze, it keeps the engine clean, it has a higher flashpoint in case of fire, and it is the equivalent of super high-octane gasoline in terms of the resulting horsepower. It can readily be used in most modern engines with a simple software setting tweak and occasionally a change in a cheap fuel seal or line. To prevent vapor lock in any possible circumstances due to being a simple, pure fuel, a small percentage of other fuel or certain additives can be included. Methanol (a methyl group linked to a hydroxyl group) may be made from hydrocarbon or renewable resources, in particular natural gas and biomass respectively. It can also be synthesized from CO2 (carbon dioxide) and hydrogen. Methanol fuel is currently used by racing cars in many countries but has not seen widespread use otherwise.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jet fuel</span> Type of aviation fuel

Jet fuel or aviation turbine fuel is a type of aviation fuel designed for use in aircraft powered by gas-turbine engines. It is colorless to straw-colored in appearance. The most commonly used fuels for commercial aviation are Jet A and Jet A-1, which are produced to a standardized international specification. The only other jet fuel commonly used in civilian turbine-engine powered aviation is Jet B, which is used for its enhanced cold-weather performance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">E85</span> Fuel blend of 85% ethanol and 15% another hydrocarbon

E85 is an abbreviation typically referring to an ethanol fuel blend of 85% ethanol fuel and 15% gasoline or other hydrocarbon by volume.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flexible-fuel vehicle</span> Vehicle that runs on multiple fuels

A flexible-fuel vehicle (FFV) or dual-fuel vehicle is an alternative fuel vehicle with an internal combustion engine designed to run on more than one fuel, usually gasoline blended with either ethanol or methanol fuel, and both fuels are stored in the same common tank. Modern flex-fuel engines are capable of burning any proportion of the resulting blend in the combustion chamber as fuel injection and spark timing are adjusted automatically according to the actual blend detected by a fuel composition sensor. This device is known as an oxygen sensor and it reads the oxygen levels in the stream of exhaust gasses, its signal enriching or leaning the fuel mixture going into the engine. Flex-fuel vehicles are distinguished from bi-fuel vehicles, where two fuels are stored in separate tanks and the engine runs on one fuel at a time, for example, compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or hydrogen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Common ethanol fuel mixtures</span>

Several common ethanol fuel mixtures are in use around the world. The use of pure hydrous or anhydrous ethanol in internal combustion engines (ICEs) is only possible if the engines are designed or modified for that purpose, and used only in automobiles, light-duty trucks and motorcycles. Anhydrous ethanol can be blended with gasoline (petrol) for use in gasoline engines, but with high ethanol content only after engine modifications to meter increased fuel volume since pure ethanol contains only 2/3 of the BTUs of an equivalent volume of pure gasoline. High percentage ethanol mixtures are used in some racing engine applications as the very high octane rating of ethanol is compatible with very high compression ratios.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alcohol fuel</span>

Various alcohols are used as fuel for internal combustion engines. The first four aliphatic alcohols are of interest as fuels because they can be synthesized chemically or biologically, and they have characteristics which allow them to be used in internal combustion engines. The general chemical formula for alcohol fuel is CnH2n+1OH.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Environmental effects of aviation</span> Effect of emissions from aircraft engines

Aircraft engines produce gases, noise, and particulates from fossil fuel combustion, raising environmental concerns over their global effects and their effects on local air quality. Jet airliners contribute to climate change by emitting carbon dioxide, the best understood greenhouse gas, and, with less scientific understanding, nitrogen oxides, contrails and particulates. Their radiative forcing is estimated at 1.3–1.4 that of CO2 alone, excluding induced cirrus cloud with a very low level of scientific understanding. In 2018, global commercial operations generated 2.4% of all CO2 emissions.

Second-generation biofuels, also known as advanced biofuels, are fuels that can be manufactured from various types of non-food biomass. Biomass in this context means plant materials and animal waste used especially as a source of fuel.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sustainable biofuel</span> Non-fossil-based sustainable production

Sustainable biofuel is biofuel produced in a sustainable manner. It is not based on petroleum or other fossil fuels. It includes not using plants that are used for food stuff to produce the fuel thus disrupting the worlds food supply.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aviation biofuel</span> Sustainable fuel used to power aircraft

An aviation biofuel or bio-jet fuel or bio-aviation fuel (BAF) is a biofuel used to power aircraft and is said to be a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The International Air Transport Association (IATA) considers it a key element to reducing the carbon footprint within the environmental impact of aviation. Aviation biofuel could help decarbonize medium- and long-haul air travel generating most emissions, and could extend the life of older aircraft types by lowering their carbon footprint.

United States policy in regard to biofuels, such as ethanol fuel and biodiesel, began in the early 1990s as the government began looking more intensely at biofuels as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil and increase the nation's overall sustainability. Since then, biofuel policies have been refined, focused on getting the most efficient fuels commercially available, creating fuels that can compete with petroleum-based fuels, and ensuring that the agricultural industry can support and sustain the use of biofuels.

Aircraft engine performance refers to factors including thrust or shaft power for fuel consumed, weight, cost, outside dimensions and life. It includes meeting regulated environmental limits which apply to emissions of noise and chemical pollutants, and regulated safety aspects which require a design that can safely tolerate environmental hazards such as birds, rain, hail and icing conditions. It is the end product that an engine company sells.

The kerosene tax is an ecotax on the kerosene-based jet fuel in commercial aviation, which can be levied within and by the European Union. The legal basis for it is the Energy Taxation Directive (2003/96/EG) of 27 October 2003, which proves the member states with the option of introducing a tax on turbine fuel for commercial domestic flights and flights between member states.


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