US strong-arm tactics, of which the threatened ban on Concorde flights to the USA was the most visible sign, have forced the European Union (EU) to climb down from its deadline for implementing the ban on operating hushkitted aircraft in EU airspace.

The prospect for another trade war with the USA so soon after a damaging dispute over bananas and a threatened fall-out over beef certainly contributed to the pressure to find a position that both sides could live with. The original date for the ban to take effect remains the same, but the EU has delayed by a year the deadline for compliance. Operators now have until next May to register their aircraft in EU countries. Under the original plan, which raised US hackles, the cut-off date was to have been 29 April, which would have prohibited any new registrations.

In the event the compromise between Brussels and Washington is probably the best that could be arrived at in the time constraints.

European opinion will harden, however, if there is a rush, especially from non-EU countries, to get their old, non-Stage 3-compliant aircraft onto the EU register. Such a move will increase noise pollution at European airports desperate to avoid further restrictions on their operations by vociferous local communities.

Apart from averting a trade war the other virtue of the deal is that the two sides have agreed to push through Stage 4 legislation via an International Civil Aviation Organisation Stage 4 ruling. The prospect of Europe shattering the ICAO consensus which has allowed the industry to keep together on international aviation legislation was one of the less pleasing aspects of the European move. Prevarication by the US Government on Stage 4 progress, or attempting to hide behind ICAO's sometimes lengthy consensus and consultation procedures, will quickly lead to a further round of regional rulemaking outside of international agreements.

The USA, which has more than 1,000 older aircraft in service compared with about 50 in the EU, advances the argument that the ban will affect unfairly the economic health of its air transport sector. It is also no coincidence that the USA has a monopoly on hushkit manufacturing.

While some accuse Europe of playing to the public gallery with a move which does little to reduce noise problems it is also clear that, as with many other pollution issues, the USA has again abandoned the larger environmental concerns for its own narrow commercial interests.

Source: Flight International