International Air Transport Association chief Giovanni Bisignani is warning Europe to expect an imminent legal challenge over its unilateral stance over emissions trading, branding the move "completely political and totally irresponsible".

The director general told delegates at the World Airlines Forum on sustainable development: "Our biggest disappointment was Europe. It has confused taking leadership with taking cash and is determined to press ahead with its own emissions trading system.

"To be blunt, this course of action is completely political and totally irresponsible. Why? Because the environment is a global problem. Our $132 billion global fuel bill is an enormous economic incentive. Regional emissions trading schemes will at best only cause diplomatic and trade battles."

Bisignani said efforts were already under way to lay the framework for a legal challenge, adding that Europe should expect a "strong" response from US Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters: "Already all states outside Europe are challenging the European Union because it is contravening the Chicago Convention, the bible of international civil aviation."

Bisignani's reference to a challenge from the USA - severe critics of unilateral action on emissions trading - is understood to refer to a recent provision which the US House of Representatives added to its version of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorisation legislation, which has yet to be enacted.

The relevant amendment in the legislation that structures FAA financing between 2008 and 2011 says: "It is the sense of Congress that the proposed EU directive extending [its] emissions trading proposal to international civil aviation without working through the ICAO in a consensus-based fashion is inconsistent with the [Chicago Convention] and... antithetical to building international co-operation to address effectively the problem of greenhouse gas emissions."

Competition law specialist Michael Renouf of Berwin Leighton Paisner believes a challenge against EU member states could come from one or more countries bringing a case before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. "Alternatively, ICAO, perhaps at the USA's instigation, could seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ," says Renouf, who adds that a pre-emptive administrative review of the European legislation before it is transposed into national law could also occur.

A senior source within the US administration told Flight International: "It is premature to talk about legal action at this time. The EU has not finalised legislation, and we continue to hope that the EU will join the consensus of the rest of the world in supporting the principle of mutual agreement for the application of measures such as an emissions trading scheme. It is not appropriate to speculate on what the USA and other countries might do in various hypothetical situations."

Source: Flight International