Airline association accuses Brussels on halon replacement

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Brussels stands accused of misleading European Union states into steamrolling the industry into replacing ozone-depleting halon in aircraft extinguishers with less effective alternatives.

According to the Association of European Airlines, which has lobbied hard against the move to replace halon, the European Commission has sent member states - which are being asked to consider overturning exemptions that allow halon-based applications in aircraft - "biased and manipulated information".

In it, the EC says: "Incidentally, we have heard from 3M that Airbus has undertaken successful testing of Novec 1230 as an extinguishant for use in the engine nacelles of its next aircraft being submitted for type certification.

"The testing, undertaken at the US Federal Aviation Administration test facility, showed that the agent met the minimum performance standard required."

If this is true, Brussels argues in the note, this would enable the European airframer to meet the 2011 cut-off date in all new aircraft.

"We have also heard that the FAA will soon be issuing a circular establishing the two alternatives HFC-227ea and HFC-236fa as FAA-approved replacements to halon 1211 for aircraft portable extinguishers," it adds.

Industry insists however there is still no viable alternative to halon in auxiliary power unit, engine and cargo fire-suppressant systems, while hand-held fire extinguishers that use alternatives are significantly less effective, require more firefighter training and are larger and heavier. This increases increasing fuel burn and requires expensive redesign for stowing.

The AEA believes the note is far from accurate. "As regards Novec 1230, there are significant concerns about impact on aircraft weight and the lack of available space for implementing such a system on existing types," it says. "As regards the so-called alternatives for handheld extinguishers, they are less effective and therefore there are safety concerns which have not been tested as part of the minimum performance standard."

It says that as aviation only rarely emits halons, the environmental benefit is questionable due to the impact on global warming in addition to safety concerns. "It is therefore factually wrong to consider these as viable alternatives unless the aim is to put the lives of EU airline passengers and crew at risk," the association says.

Airbus says it is in the process of preparing a position paper, while Boeing says it is premature to propose end-dates because halon remains the optimum solution from a safety and overall environmental perspective, and technically and economically feasible alternatives have not been identified yet for most applications.

The EC says: "There is no question of putting safety at risk: any alternatives must provide an equivalent level of safety to that of halons and safety agency EASA, which has been consulted on the proposal, will be required to approve any alternatives before they can be installed.

"All dates will be kept under review to take account of progress in halon replacement and there is also the possibility of case-by-case derogations from the dates where it is demonstrated that there are no technically and economically feasible alternatives available."