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Aviation fuel is a specialized type of petroleum-based fuel used to power aircraft. It is generally of a higher quality than fuels used in less critical applications, such as heating or road transport, and often contains additives to reduce the risk of icing or explosion due to high temperature, among other properties.
Most aviation fuels available for aircraft are kinds of petroleum spirit used in engines with spark plugs (i.e. piston and Wankel rotary engines), or fuel for jet turbine engines, which is also used in diesel aircraft engines.
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.
Production of aviation fuel
Jet fuel is used in both turboprop and jet aircraft, and must maintain a low viscosity at low temperature, meet definite limits in terms of density and calorific value, burn cleanly, and remain chemically stable when heated to high temperature.
Aviation gasoline, often referred to as "avgas", 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.
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 military.
Avgas (aviation gasoline) is used in spark-ignited internal-combustion engines in aircraft. Its formulation is distinct from mogas (motor gasoline) used in cars. Avgas is formulated for stability, safety, and predictable performance under a wide range of environments, and is typically used in aircraft that use reciprocating or Wankel engines.
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). It is similar to diesel fuel, and can be used in either compression ignition engines or turbine engines.
Jet-A powers modern commercial airliners and is a mix of pure kerosene and anti-freeze and burns at temperatures at or above 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit). 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 other ground-based users with less demanding requirements, like railroad engines.
Aviation fuel is often dispensed from a tanker or bowser, which is 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.
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.
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 40 psi and a maximum of 45 psi for most commercial aircraft. Pressure for military aircraft, especially fighters, ranges up to 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.
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 USA). 
Jet fuel is clear to straw-colored, and is dispensed from a special nozzle called a J spout 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.
- BP Avgas 80, 44.65 MJ/kg, density at 15°C is 690 kg/m3.
- Kerosene type BP Jet A-1, 43.15 MJ/kg, density at 15°C is 804 kg/m3.
- Kerosene type BP Jet TS-1 (for lower temperatures), 43.2 MJ/kg, density at 15°C is 787 kg/m3.
Aviation fuels consist of blends of over a thousand chemicals, primarily hydrocarbons (paraffins, olefins, naphthenes, and aromatics), additives such as antioxidants and metal deactivators, 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. 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) and certain Rotax engines.
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. 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.
Many airlines now require safety belts be left unfastened should passengers be aboard during refueling.
The Convention on International Civil Aviation (ICAO) (Chicago 1947) exempts air fuels from taxation. Australia and the USA oppose a worldwide levy on aviation fuel, but a number of other countries have expressed interest.
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