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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fuel Hitch Continues In Australia

SYDNEY, Australia -- The failure of a new fuel contamination test dashed hopes Wednesday that some of up to 5,000 small planes which have been grounded for more than a week could return to the air.

The contamination scare - which Australian aviation officials say is the worst of its type in the world - has grounded half of the country's small-aircraft fleet.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority said it could be another week before scientists develop a test that would determine which planes had been infected by bad fuel.

It would take even longer to develop a system to clean aircraft fuel systems where contamination was confirmed, the authority said.

Mick Toller, the authority's safety director, said scientists had been able to develop a test for one kind of residue found in the contaminated fuel, but had been unable to test for a white "gunk" that has also been found.

"It's a very sad blow for the industry," Toller said on Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "It could be up to another week [before there is a test] and obviously we don't want that any more than the industry does."

Aviation gas made by Mobil Oil Australia Ltd., a subsidiary of U.S.-based Exxon Mobil Corp., at its Melbourne plant between Nov. 21 and Dec. 23 and distributed throughout Australia's eastern states was found to have a mystery contaminant that the company and officials say could block fuel systems and cause engines to stall.

The fuel is used by aircraft which have piston-driven engines. Turboprop planes such as jet airliners are not affected.

When CASA on Jan. 10 ordered all aircraft which had received the fuel not to fly until further notice, an industry worth 500 million Australian dollars ($330 million) a year was thrown into crisis.

Small regional airlines, charter services and flight schools have been crippled, crops left undusted and some medical and wildfire fighting services scaled back.

On Tuesday, Mobil announced a 15 million Australian dollar plan to help small plane operators who were suffering "immediate financial hardship."

But the company said the plan was not an admission of liability.