US carriers were on track to meet the first deadline of the European Union's emissions trading scheme (ETS) even though they, too, were seeking an extension to the 31 August cut-off, blaming European regulators for lack of preparation.
Air Transport Association of America vice-president of environmental affairs Nancy Young says a delay is needed because the European Commission has not finalised which airlines will be regulated by which administering EU member state after publishing a preliminary list in February. A definitive list had been expected in June or July.
Not having an assigned regulator puts carriers in an untenable position because the scheme is being implemented on a state-by-state basis, says Young.
There are also concerns that no EU country has actually transposed the aviation directive into its national law and that airline monitoring and reporting requirements remain unclear, not to mention the ongoing contention that including international air travel in the scheme violates aviation law.
US carriers also requested more time to submit their emissions plans because of difficulty in obtaining fuel from multiple sources at airports around the world.
"Europe's experience with ETS is limited to stationary suppliers," says Young. "Rules you might apply to a single fixed facility don't really work. They haven't sufficiently tailored the requirements for the way we actually operate."
For example, carriers must provide Europe both fuel quantity and fuel density, even though fuel suppliers generally don't measure fuel density.
"How are we supposed to get that?" says Young, who adds that finding site-specific fuel density is difficult when airlines refuel using many different suppliers.
It also remains unclear whether flights operated by commercial carriers for the government will be included in the ETS.
In addition, there appear to be errors in the preliminary administering list, which counts Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines separately even though the carriers merged in October 2008, and one unidentified ATA member carrier does not fly into the EU. That mistake has been raised at "high levels", although European officials - who say all questions will be resolved - have yet to remove that operator from the list. Young says that is cold comfort for carriers facing the deadline.