Hushkitted airliners may be the cause of an imminent US/Europe trade war, but the chosen weaponry is more outlandish than the conflict itself.

Europe wants to ban the import of any more hushkitted airliners, despite the fact that they comply with the International Civil Aviation Organisation's (ICAO) standards and recommended practices (SARPs) on noise as embodied in the Chicago Convention. The USA, home to the world's hushkit manufacturers, says this is illegal restraint of trade. The USA's chosen weapon is ICAO arbitration.

ICAO's arbitration will almost certainly solve nothing because the USA's action is tantamount to shadow boxing. ICAO can clarify two issues: first, whether the hushkitted aircraft comply with Chapter III SARPs - which they do; second, whether Europe is in breach of the Chicago convention - which it is not, if only because the European Union as an entity is not a signatory to that treaty even if its individual member states are. Perhaps the crucial consideration is the nature of the ICAO SARPs. Their raison d'être is to provide basic standards to harmonise the aviation-related regulations which ICAO member states then implement individually. Like most standards - and laws - they state minima. If any ICAO member state wishes to operate to higher standards, whether in safety or, for that matter, noise, it would not be breaching the letter or the spirit of the SARPs.

Even if the USA were to attack each EU member state individually - all of which have voted unanimously in favour of the EU position - there remains the question of how effectively America could wield any stick with which ICAO arbitration might provide. The USA maintains that the member states "in default" could be deprived of voting rights at ICAO. That decision, however, would rest with the ICAO Assembly, and there is no certainty that the membership would agree to deprive any state of voting rights over an issue like this.

Even if the methods being used to win the hushkit battle are bizarre, the dispute itself is not. To the USA it is a denial of free trade. Europe claims its right to protect its environment from aircraft engines which, although they may meet the letter of the SARPs, are noisier and more polluting than engines built to Chapter III.

This dispute is threatening to become a bare-knuckle trade war, with the ICAO arbitration just a sideshow. It is clear from its two offers of compromise that Europe doesn't want to fight, but will if the USA makes no commitments on Chapter IV - the next stage of noise restriction. If trade is the issue, the battle should be taken to the World Trade Organisation, not ICAO.

Source: Flight International