Brussels ignores halon ban safety fears

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European nations are being urged to reject official proposals from Brussels to ban halon fire extinguishers on board aircraft because they dangerously downplay safety concerns.

Industry says Brussels is determined to override international safety standards and ignore crucial concerns over replacing halon in aircraft extinguishers with a carbon dioxide alternative, which it believes to be inferior.

The European Commission's environment directorate recently launched a formal process asking European Union environment ministers to help review current rules on substances that deplete the Earth's ozone layer including halon-based extinguishers that are exempted.

"The official proposals that were sent to the member states in late April for comments with additional background seem to confirm that the environment directorate is trying to downplay the cost impact and safety concerns," says the Association of European Airlines, which has led industry lobbying on this issue.

Included in the proposals are the retrofit of portable fire extinguishers by 2021, of waste tanks by 2017 and all other halon-based systems such as cargo, engine nacelles, auxiliary power units and fuel tank inerting by 2031. Halon would also be banned in all portable fire extinguishers, waste tanks, fuel tank inerting, engine nacelles, APUs in new aircraft by 2012 and cargo compartments by 2017.

The AEA says Brussels is ignoring the well-founded concerns of the entire civil aviation industry, which insists there is still no halon alternative in APU, engine and cargo fire-suppressant systems while hand-held fire extinguishers that can use alternatives are significantly less effective, require more firefighter training and are considerably larger and heavier, increasing fuel burn and requiring costly redesigns.

"It seems Brussels is willing to comprise on aviation safety, does not care about the cost impact and is even willing to comprise its own anti-climate change objectives for a purely political agenda on halon replacement. We therefore need to make sure that EU member states reject those proposals.

"No dates should be decided - not even for new production aircraft - before safe and viable alternatives are available and the focus should be on further research," says the AEA.

Member states will submit their comments by 31 May. A vote is planned for October.