The European Commission (EC) has formally approved a ban on the European operation of aircraft fitted with hushkits, but in a last-minute concession to the USA has postponed the regulation's implementation by a year, until 1 May, 2000.

As part of the compromise deal thrashed out in the past few weeks the two sides have agreed to push on with the process to adopt a new Stage 4 aircraft noise and emissions regulation through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Failure to push through stricter rules could rekindle threat of a trade war between the USA and the European Union (EU), however.

At issue was a move by the EU to restrict hushkitted aircraft in Western Europe. The law was supposed to ban the addition of Stage 3-compliant hushkitted aircraft registered in the EU as of April 1999 and, from April 2002, prevent the operation of hushkitted aircraft except for those registered in the 15 EU countries by the April 1999 deadline. Following US pressure, the EU postponed implementing the ban until 1 May, 2000, The final date for banning hushkitted aircraft that were not registered in the EU before the revised implementation date remains 1 April 2002.

The USA says the EU's regulation would harm the US hushkit industry by hitting residual values of hushkitted Boeing 727s and 737s and McDonnell Douglas DC-9s, while unilaterally undermining ICAO noise regulations. The US House of Representatives has voted to ban Aerospatiale/British Aerospace Concorde operations into the USA in retaliation.

In the run-up to the 29 April approval of the ban, Washington was "piling the pressure on", says EC Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock's office. She adds, however, that the atmosphere is now a "lot more positive-we hope there will be movement now towards a really solid deal leading to an ICAO Stage 4 agreement".

US Commerce Secretary William Daley says "obviously, there are a lot of differences and issues that need to be resolved over the next year". Daley says US industry had questioned supporting Stage 4, but has moved towards accepting new standards on noise.

The Airports Council International (ACI), which represents many of the world's leading airports, condemned the decision as "a climbdown under US Government pressure".

"This delay should now not be wasted", says ACI director-general Philippe Hamon. "It should be used by member states of the International Civil Aviation Organisation [ICAO] to reach urgently a global agreement on aircraft noise limitation. Should ICAO fail to meet the challenge, then a further proliferation of regional measures will be inevitable."

The US Aerospace Industries Association calls the move a "step in the right direction", but one leaving US manufacturers and air carriers uncertain about the future. It also says the deal puts the USA "in the unpalatable position" of negotiating under threat within ICAO for Stage 4.

Source: Flight International