David Learmount/LONDON

The European Commission (EC) has threatened to enforce its own environmental standards for the aviation industry if the international community fails to agree action.

The new EC document Air Transport and the Environment was released almost unnoticed on 1 December by Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio and Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström.

The paper makes it clear that the EC favours "defining more restrictive international standards for aircraft noise and gaseous emissions". However, if these do not take shape, then Europe will go it alone, warns de Palacio.

The Commission has already sought to take unilateral action to implement noise regulations involving restrictions on the use of hushkitted aircraft, a move that was delayed after it ran into fierce opposition from the USA.

Europe is getting impatient over the need for environmental advances in aviation. The last major global agreement on the environment, the Kyoto Protocol of December 1997, sidestepped the aviation issue.

Among the measures proposed in the EC document are:

• Improving air traffic management (ATM) to reduce delays, which add to fuel use and pollution;

• An "international approach to taxes on aircraft fuel" or "alternative forms of environmental tax". One of the "alternative" proposals is an airspace user tax based on environmental criteria such as distance flown;

Environmental protection group Friends of the Earth welcomed the document, saying: "Air travel is already the world's fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases but, unlike other transport users, airlines pay no pollution taxes."

De Palacio also wants a Europe-wide framework of rules for airports, including:

• A common noise classification scheme;

• A standard noise index and method for calculating noise exposure levels;

• Noise-monitoring, noise-zoning and land use rules;

• Recommended practice for the use of land near airports;

• Standard airport operating rules.

Source: Flight International