COLIN BAKER LONDON The simmering row between the USA and Brussels over the issue of engines hushkitted to meet Chapter III noise standards has escalated, with the USA carrying out its threat to issue a complaint through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

ICAO president Dr Assad Kotaite has carried out his obligation to inform the council of the complaint and the document is being translated before being presented to the European Union (EU) member states - which may take some time considering it is around 2.5cm (1 in) thick. The EU will then have 90 days to reply to the US complaint.

Sources close to the talks say that European transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio may go to the European Parliament to get a suspension of the hushkit regulation, which is due to come into force on 4 May. A new date shortly before the next ICAO assembly in the autumn of next year is suggested, with the USA, in turn, suspending its complaint.

However, it is far from certain that the European Parliament will agree to a suspension, given the well-documented problems with aircraft noise around major airports within the EU. One commentator pointed out that Palacio is in a weaker negotiating position due to this need to go to the European Parliament, whereas, for the USA, it is an executive decision.

Sources at ICAO complain that the situation "has got widely out of hand", but offer hope that Kotaite's arbitration skills will enable a solution to be found, with both sides reported to be less hawkish in their discussions with ICAO than they are with each other.

Meanwhile, both sides are standing their ground. The Commission says it "deeply regrets" the US decision to reject a draft agreement reached in February, under which the EU would have been obliged to suspend the regulation, the USA would suspend its threat to complain to ICAO and the two sides would agree on the objectives of a new noise standard. The Commission warns that the US action "will severely complicate efforts within ICAO to develop a more stringent noise standard".

The EU has said it would be prepared to issue new noise standards unilaterally if nothing could be agreed through ICAO. The issue of a new noise standard has always been in the background of the hushkit row, with the Europeans keener than the USA on the idea of a stringent Chapter IV.

John Meenan, senior vice-president for industrial policy at the Air Transport Association, the club of US majors, says that the decision to go ahead with the complaint is "unfortunate but the reality is that, until this issue is resolved, it casts doubt on the chances of a Chapter IV engine standard being agreed through ICAO".

Source: Airline Business