A year of committee showdown and moral high ground, 2007 will see the European Union's bid to include aviation in the world's largest carbon trading market coming under attack from either side of the green divide.

The European Commission (EC) launched its vision in 2006 to impose extra charges on foreign and domestic carriers flying between European airports from 2011, and a year later on all flights arriving at or departing from European Union (EU) airports. The USA predictably hit back, condemning the idea of forcing its airlines to participate, and accusing EU member states of potentially breaking legal obligations under the 1944 Chicago Convention (and any other bilateral air transport agreements it cared to mention).

© Keith Gasekell   
In certain atmospheric conditions, condensation trails form cirrus clouds

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas reckons the move will resist legal challenges, but he will have to counter opposition from the Old World in 2007. The European Parliament, with the Council of Ministers, needs to pass the scheme into law, although early signs are that the former is not impressed with its scope having previously demanded a raft of measures, including extra penalties to tackle non-carbon greenhouse gas emissions.

Eurowatchers say the USA's heavy-handed tactics over new and significant European chemicals legislation did nothing to endear it to Euro MEPs. Environmentalists aren't happy either, accusing the Commission of simply ticking items on the industry's wishlist and, somewhat perversely, of creating a system that could generate massive windfall profits for the industry.

What will be critical, however, is the ongoing work on the environmental impact of international aviation conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which has been considering the issue of aviation emissions since 1998. At the last ICAO Assembly in 2004, the 189 member countries agreed on establishing environmental policy, although overall progress has been slow.

A key date falls in February when ICAO's Committee on Aviation and Environment Protection (CAEP) meets to present its guidance on emissions trading schemes ready for the next ICAO general assembly in September. The US Federal Aviation Administration plans to present its own environmental toolbox to the committee, highlighting four areas of operations where it says real emissions-cutting progress can be made.

Many in the aviation industry think ICAO should be the starting point to establish an international structure and legal framework that effectively includes environmental realities - hence the alarm with which the EC's unilateral move to develop a multilateral option has been greeted.

Source: Flight International