FAA criticises Europe's green line

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Blakey calls environmental plan 'unworkable', but warns that similar backlash against aviation is possible in USA

US Federal Aviation Administration head Marion Blakey has dealt a fierce counter-punch against a movement in Europe to "unilaterally" impose an aviation emissions trading system.

"In Europe, there are factions working to curtail aviation growth regardless of the benefits we offer to the economy and quality of life," says Blakey. "Trying to force a European solution on the world given the different aviation sectors, economic circumstances, and environmental issues of countries is unworkable, not to mention illegal," she told the Phoenix Aviation Symposium last week.

Blakey used several anecdotes to illustrate the seriousness with which the issue of aviation emissions is viewed in Europe. She said there was an attempt to impose a $200 green tax on all flights to Europe and Africa and $500 on flights to the rest of the world.

In her speech, Blakey mocked a proposal by the residents of one region of Belgium to use airborne surveillance to monitor emissions from backyard "barbecue grills".

"It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's a helicopter with a thermal imaging sensor that's cracking down on backyard barbecue," she said. "So eventually cooler heads prevailed. But keep in mind that even if the average civilian helicopter burns about 10 or 12 gallons of fuel [38 or 46 litres] an hour...we're laughing, but it's really not funny."

The level of concern in Europe raises fears of a rapid backlash against aviation in the USA as well. "One thing is for sure. This shift in the European view toward aviation happened virtually overnight," Blakey says. "We should not be so foolish as to presume that it can't happen here."

The FAA is working to get ahead of the game with proposals to modernise the air traffic management system, increase fuel efficiency on new airliners by 25%, reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by half and develop alternative commercial fuels.

Blakey notes that cars generate 21% of greenhouse gases and power plants generate 33%, while aviation produces less than 3%. "Frankly, I'm not interested in hiding behind the argument that says: 'We're less than 2% of the greenhouse gases.' This issue is much bigger," she says.