The USA and Europe have drawn battle lines over the EU's hushkit ban

Chris Jasper/LONDON Julian Moxon/PARIS

The aero-engine "hushkit war" which has raged so publicly between Europe and the USA for the past couple of years is about to enter a new and potentially far more serious phase. From 4 May, the shouting stops and the battle will claim its first victims, as a bar comes into effect on European Union (EU) nations adding aircraft to their registers that have been muffled via hushkitting.

This "non-addition" rule is aimed at limiting European operations by otherwise noisy aircraft that have been hushkitted and "re-certificated" to the International Civil Aviation Organisation's (ICAO) quieter Chapter 3 standard, escaping its blanket ban on all Chapter 2 aircraft, which will apply from 1 April, 2002.

The non-addition rule will be supplemented by a move barring all "third country" (ie, non-EU) hushkitted aircraft from operating into the 15-nation union from 1 April, 2002, unless they have a previous history of doing so, defined as having operated into the EU after 1 April, 1995.

Together, the two moves will effectively freeze at the current (low) levels the number of hushkitted aircraft able to serve EU airports, barring the 2,000 or so Chapter 2 aircraft already hushkitted or available for hushkitting, which would, in theory, be able to fly into Europe after being made Chapter 3-compliant.

Brussels is adamant that it is motivated purely by environmental concerns; it has no desire to see noisy aircraft cleared for operation into the EU after hushkitting to Chapter 3 standards when those same aircraft, in their original Chapter 2 "form", have been subject to a phased ban there since 1995.

In the USA, however, the EU's strategy is regarded not as environmentally friendly, but as protectionist. The USA is home not only to a large hushkit manufacturing industry which has no equivalent in Europe, but also to the airlines which operate the bulk of Chapter 2 aircraft - Boeing 727s, 737-200s and McDonnell Douglas DC-9s - ripe for modification. It claims that the EU stance represents a threat to its industry and - by excluding them from European operations - the resale value of affected aircraft.

The USA has also been eliminating Chapter 2 aircraft ahead of the ban, with all such aircraft barred from the 48 contiguous states since 31 December last year, ahead of Europe's final ban on Chapter 2 operations, which coincides with ICAO's April 2002 deadline. The USA, however, has no qualms about allowing aircraft hushkitted to Chapter 3 standards to continue operating after the ICAO deadline.

The chief battleground between the two is Annex 16 of ICAO's founding document, the Chicago Convention. The EU says Annex 16 Chapter 3, which is used as the basis for certification, was never meant to include re-certificated aircraft, defined as a "civil subsonic jet aircraft initially certificated to Chapter 2 or equivalent standards, or originally not noise certificated, which has been modified to meet Chapter 3 standards, either directly through technical measures or indirectly through operating restrictions". The USA argues that compliance with the regulation should be open to "all subsonic aircraft, including derivatives".

Simmering argument

The USA-EU argument has been simmering since Europe first proposed a non-addition ban in March 1998. A ban date of 1 April, 1999, was proposed, but with the row threatening to turn into a trade war, Europe decided on a year's delay, setting the new deadline of next month.

US commerce secretary Lawrence Daley hailed the move as a "constructive measure which should be used for reaching a common understanding", yet attempts to close the gap between the two sides failed, and last month the European Parliament ratified the 4 May deadline, saying an indefinite suspension of the ban would "entail an unsustainable situation in the EU, exposing people to noise levels which endanger their health and quality of life".

Washington, however, got in its strike even before the parliamentary vote, taking the row to ICAO for arbitration with only the fourth ever action under Article 84 of the Chicago Convention, and claiming that EU policy discriminates against Chapter 3 compliance achieved through entirely legal technical and operational measures. Others in the USA have gone further, with Congress threatening to scrap a dispensation allowing Concorde flights into the USA, and other Draconian measures, although these do not have White House support.

ICAO is well into a 90-day review of the Article 84 complaint. New attempts at compromise have centred on the USA committing to the early introduction of undefined Chapter 4 noise standards and to phasing out Chapter 3 aircraft, starting with hushkitted types.

A deal could see ICAO agree a new standard requiring further cuts of 8-11dB in cumulative noise levels, but although US opinion supports these levels for new applications, it stands behind the validity of hushkit-based solutions, with Pratt & Whitney's Larry Gray, manager of customer value analysis, demanding "explicit language that will spell it out".

Room for further manoeuvre is limited and the chance of a breakthrough seems remote. As one US industry observer says: "The political issues are bigger than the technical ones."

Source: Flight International