Ready for ‘take off’

May 1, 2005 By    

A new nationwide campaign to reduce air pollution at airports offers financial incentives to convert ground transportation fleets to run on alternative fuels – including propane. The Voluntary Airport Low Emission (VALE) program is a Federal Aviation Administration program to reduce ground emissions at commercial service airports in air quality non-attainment and attainment/maintenance areas. Participating airports can use program funds to pay for low-emission vehicles, refueling and recharging stations, gate electrification and other improvements.

Of the 515 commercial airports in the United States, about 30 to 35 percent are eligible for VALE funds (See chart for complete list of eligible airports).

The program was developed in 2004 by the FAA to provide incentives for airports to utilize low-emission technology to improve air quality. Airports that do not meet ever-tighter air pollution standards could lose millions of dollars in federal funding they need for expansion projects.

“It’s nice that this program could come about without any new regulations,” says Jake Plante, national resource advisor for noise and air quality for the FAA. “It meets clean air regulations and provides airports with funding to make changes so they can meet those regulations. I hope airports take advantage of this.”

Propane already is the fuel choice at many airports for heating, standby power or co-generation, food service, forklifts, various ground support equipment, shuttles, taxis and other on- and off-road vehicles.

Ground service equipment at airports across the nation consume about 115 million gallons of fuel (mostly gasoline or diesel) each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Shuttle buses servicing airports burn an additional 106 million gallons annually.

According to VALE’s guidelines, every engine-driven piece of airport equipment is available with propane options – as original equipment or retrofits. Propane also offers lower installation and operating costs than other fuels that qualify for program funding.

Such a program can be readily expanded to include local and regional “airfront” partners, such as overnight delivery, distribution, service providers, etc.

 Airports eligible for the VALE program
Airports eligible for the VALE program

The Propane Education & Resource Council is helping airports develop VALE projects by providing technical assistance to those interested in adapting propane engine fuel applications.

Brian Feehan, managing director of engine fuel programs, says PERC is interested supporting the goals of the VALE program and helping airports develop successful proposals.

“As an industry, we approach VALE from three different angles,” Feehan says. “We approach airport executives, ground service equipment managers and air transport support groups. We show them the benefits of VALE from the ground up. Specifically, we show them the benefits of propane – it’s portable, available, economical and environmentally sound. It really has an advantage over other alternate fuels.”

With the EPA pressing airports to clean up emissions and VALE funds available for fleet conversions, propane retailers should be scrambling to get their local airports on board and in their customer database for year-round sales.

But how can a retailer get in on this?

“First, a retailer should visit the PERC and FAA Web sites and learn as much as they can about VALE,” says Feehan.

“Then contact your local airport and set up meetings to discuss possible projects. Chances are they already know about VALE and are looking into implementing it. Show them that propane is the easiest, most cost-effective way to lower emissions, and give them what they need.”

Funding for the VALE program is provided through two airport financial assistance programs: the FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which provides grants to airports from the federal Aviation Trust Fund, and the Passenger Facility Charges (PFC) program, which approves use of locally imposed fees collected from airline passenger tickets for application to eligible airport development projects.

For a complete review of all the rules and regulations of VALE, see PERC’s Web site ( or the FAA site (

VALE-authorized AIP funds can be used to purchase new, airport-dedicated, on-road or non-road, propane-powered or other alternative fuel vehicles. The vehicles include new-fit vehicles or new vehicles modified or “up-fitted” with EPA-certified propane engine fuel systems. AIP-funded vehicles must be owned and operated by the airport and must operate exclusively on propane or other alternative fuels. There is no fixed amount of money in the pot for AIP funds and grants are awarded within a fiscal year.

VALE-authorized PFC funds can be used for the same vehicles, as well as some airport-dedicated vehicles that are not airport-owned. Vehicles retrofitted with EPA-approved low emission equipment are also eligible. They must be listed on: and meet required vehicle emission standards. Vehicles may operate on propane or other alternative fuels or “clean” conventional fuels.

There likewise is no fixed amount of money available for PFC funds, and general guidelines and timetables are set for projects.

Depending on the size of the airport, AIP funds will pay from 75 percent to 90 percent of the incremental cost of the vehicles or related infrastructure. PFC funds will pay for 100 percent of the incremental costs of new vehicles and 100 percent of related propane or other infrastructure costs.

Unlike the AIP program, which is limited to new vehicles, PFC dollars may be used to pay for the cost of retrofitting existing vehicles. In addition, PFC funds may be used to pay the incremental costs for ground service equipment vehicles that are owned by airlines.

The Ground Support Equipment Retrofit Pilot Program is the only mechanism by which AIP funding can be used for ground service equipment retrofit to propane technology. Ten airports will be awarded matching funds of up to $500,000 each to retrofit existing airport ground service equipment. The program is designed to obtain information on a one-time basis for low-emission retrofit technologies, including propane.

Eligible projects for the program are retrofits of existing airport ground service equipment that burn gasoline and diesel to achieve lower emissions using retrofit aftermarket low-emissions technology. To achieve even greater emissions reductions, propane-fueled ground service equipment adds significant cost-effectiveness benefits to a program proposal.

With all the funding and incentives available, airports should be more open than ever to switch to propane – or some other alternative fuel choice.

“Airports are becoming more and more aware of VALE and they’re embracing it. We just have to get them more energized and interested in propane. It looks like 2005 is going be a very productive year, so if a retailer has an airport account or is looking for one, VALE can be a huge asset,” says Feehan.

“The government gets lower emissions, airports get economic incentives and the propane industry gets opened up to a whole new market. Everybody wins.”

Comments are currently closed.