Despite the recession, green measures will be a major influencing factor on airlines and airports

Environmental pressures on the air transport industry are likely to ease this year as regulators and politicians baulk at setting new rules that might hurt a sector already reeling from the recession and 11 September. But if the industry shows steady recovery with the arrival of the summer season in the northern hemisphere, pressure for improvements will be applied once more - particularly in Europe where aircraft noise and pollution are especially unwelcome.

Europe has, meanwhile, technically backed down in the "hushkits war" with the USA, under pressure from the 2001 International Civil Aviation Organisation Assembly's Resolution 33.7. This confirmed that the worldwide approach to aircraft noise standards should not be regionally fragmented but based on a "balanced approach" to managing noise reduction at airports.

Fundamentally, this consists of adopting all other possible strategies for airport noise limitation before permitting local restrictions for a particular airport. Possible methods include varying the techniques for operating aircraft, adoption of new departure and approach paths, and land-use planning in the vicinity of airports. The trouble with these "solutions" is that they have, in many cases, already been adopted, and land-use planning implies action for future airports or runways, not for existing ones which are already surrounded by urban development.

The result is likely to be additional pressure for aircraft to carry out approaches, departures and procedures that are based on environmental rather than operational and safety considerations. The possible outcome of this type of policy was seen in November when a Crossair BAE Systems Avro RJ100 crashed on a non-precision approach to Zurich, Switzerland - the precision approach was no longer an option because it was just after 22:00 local time, and the instrument landing system runway was off limits because of noise abatement procedures (Flight International, 11-17 December, 2001).

Balanced approach

The European Commission (EC) has drawn up a directive recommending the adoption of a "balanced approach". This will be set before the European Parliament early this year, and although its acceptance is by no means guaranteed, concerns about the weakness of the air transport industry are likely to improve its chances of passing.

If the parliament were to reject the directive, says, Eckhard Seebohm, head of the EC's airport and environment policy unit, Europe and the USA would be once again at daggers drawn because, at present, aircraft which are only marginally compliant with Chapter 3 standards (such as hushkitted types) may not be added in the European register.

The USA alleged, of course, that the European stance amounted to a restriction on the trade in hushkits - which is what sparked the row in the first place.

Since our forecasts for 2001 (Flight International 2-8 January 2001), President George Bush has taken over at the White House and made it clear that the USA has no intention of following the Kyoto Protocol to control global warming. This clearly weakens further Kyoto's chances of fulfilling its aim of having a substantial effect on the global environment.

Seebohm, however, makes it clear that Europe still intends to adopt Kyoto, though he says that measures which put European aviation at a disadvantage would be politically unworkable. The ultimate European Commission dream is to impose aviation fuel taxes on the grounds that there is no reasonable case for exempting aviation from a tax to which surface transport is subject.

But, as Seebohm makes clear, the EC recognises that it would be politically impossible, especially in the present climate, to impose such taxes on foreign airlines serving Europe. By extension, this rules out imposing fuel taxes on the international operations of Europe-based carriers.

However, a voluntary agreement on emissions reduction has been seen to work in the car industry, and Seebohm believes it will work with aviation.

Source: Flight International