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Brussels poised to push for controversial halon replacement

Brussels is making a fresh push to overturn international aviation safety standards by banning halon fire extinguishers. Halon is superior to carbon dioxide in firefighting, but its release is more damaging to the ozone layer.

A review by European Commission environment directorate and member states' environment ministers of rules on substances that deplete the ozone layer could overturn exemptions that now allow halon-based aviation safety applications.

"Halon remains the fire-extinguishing medium of choice - safe, proven and causing little environmental damage. Alternatives are either non-existent, less effective or disproportionate in terms of cost," says the Association of European Airlines (AEA).

Brussels' proposals include the retrofit of portable fire extinguishers by 2021, of waste tanks by 2017 and all other halon-based systems such as cargo, engine nacelles, auxiliary power units and fuel tank inerting by 2031.

Halon would also be banned in all portable fire extinguishers, waste tanks, fuel tank inerting, engine nacelles and APUs in new aircraft by 2012 and cargo compartments by 2017. Member states have been asked to submit their comments by 31 May, with a vote planned for October.

The aviation industry, however, insists changes affecting global aviation safety are the prerogative of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and not subject to regional rulemaking.

The issue of halon replacement has been the subject of heated recent debate and the end dates are considered as a mainly political objective to be imposed on industry to push for research and development of alternatives.

According to the AEA, there is still no viable alternative to halon in APU, engine and cargo fire-suppressant systems, while hand-held fire extinguishers that do use alternatives are significantly less effective, require more firefighter training and are larger and heavier, increasing fuel burn and requiring expensive redesign for stowing.

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