Brussels says its motive is to fight for the environment, not to be protectionist

Julian Moxon/PARIS

When a senior European Com-mission official says the US stance in the hushkit row is "an Ayatollah-like reaction", it is clear that relations between Brussels and Washington are near rock bottom over the issue. The EC is particularly upset by claims that its noise policy has been inspired by protectionism rather than by environmental concerns. Brussels believes the USA fails to understand the level of support for "green" strategies in Europe, and the clamour for a get-tough approach to aircraft noise.

Hushkits may offer technical compliance with Chapter 3, but they contravene the spirit of the law, the EU argues. In Europe, it says, airports tend to be closer to city centres than in the USA, and there is a greater airport density, making hushkitted aircraft unwelcome.

Moreover, individual airports are already acting to cut noise. UK operator BAA has initiated a 10% landing fee surcharge on the noisiest Chapter 3 aircraft "regardless of how they achieved their Chapter 3 status". It says this "makes more sense as it is the noise of the aircraft that is important to the community, rather than what is behind the noise certification".

The EU adds that the purpose of noise certification is "not to provide a seal of operational approval on any particular aircraft, but to ensure that the latest available noise reduction technology is incorporated into aircraft design". Arguing that ICAO Annex 16, Chapter 3, was conceived for new aircraft and "never intended to apply to recertificated aircraft", an EC source claims it has "followed the ICAO ruling to the word", and that measures to cap numbers of hushkitted aircraft are entirely justifiable.

The EC says Europe has already re-equipped with aircraft designed to meet Chapter 3 standards, and cannot be blamed for US carriers' failure to do so. When Chapter 2 standards became compulsory in the 1980s, the aircraft worst hit was the Hawker Siddeley Trident, whose sole operator, British Airways, replaced it with Boeing's 757.

The EC also says that its strategy will affect relatively few aircraft. EU states have fewer than 30 hushkitted aircraft on their registers, and it says only around 300 "foreign" aircraft will even be affected by the ban. The US hype, it claims, is "for a virtually non-existent number of third-country aircraft operating into the EU".

Europeans claim the US imposition of compliance dates for the withdrawal of Chapter 2 aircraft - 25% by 1994, 50% by 1996, 75% by 1998 and 100% by 1999 - was a recipe for hushkitting. By the end of 1996, around 650 aircraft had been hushkitted, and by 2000, more than 1,500. Another EC gripe concerns the way in which hushkitting exploits Annex 16's permitted trade-offs between the noise of aircraft as measured at the three points for certification: lateral, flyover and approach.

The certification procedure allows for an excess at one point to be offset by corresponding reductions in the two others. For example, if an aircraft falls within the noise level allowed during approach it can be certificated as noise-compliant even when it exceeds the allowable noise at take-off, or flyover. The EC says these are the points which create the most noise nuisance.

A report carried out for the EC by consultants in April last year says many aircraft have therefore been "shoehorned" into compliance with Chapter 3. Aircraft such as the Boeing 727, 737-200, McDonnell Douglas DC-9, Fokker F28 and BAC One-Eleven, with bypass ratios of 1.5-2.0, could not satisfy Chapter 3 without hushkitting, while later aircraft with turbofans with ratios of 6-10 are easily compliant.

The EU says its ban on recertificated aircraft with a bypass ratio of less than 2 is necessary as aircraft noise is linked to engine exhaust velocity, a halving of jet velocity equating to a 20dB reduction in noise output, or a fourfold reduction in perceived noise.

Shoehorning, it says, has helped hushkitted aircraft, and even the Pratt &Whitney JT8D-200-powered Boeing MD-80, commonly regarded as the Chapter 3 benchmark, but with a low-bypass ratio engine and compliant only by trading off large margins at approach.

The Rolls-Royce Tay, with a bypass ratio of 3, gives the Fokker 100 a cumulative Chapter 3 noise margin of +7.8dB, with no shortfall in any of the three measurement points, whereas the lightest of the MD-80 series, the MD-87, has a cumulative margin of just 1.9dB, including a 0.6dB shortfall in the lateral measurement.

The EC says rules barring operations by aircraft transferred from one EU register to another are aimed at preventing "any increase in movements of recertificated aircraft" in the area. It says that between April 1998 and September 1999 there were only seven recertificated aircraft operational in the member states, and only three were transferred, "so transferability is simply not an issue".

New EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio says that if a global agreement on a new noise standard can be reached at ICAO's next meeting in Montreal in September, it will replace the regulation on hushkits, and that the EU will also "look at the aspects of the issue that are most damaging to non-EU nations".

Progress, has been painstakingly slow, and the EU says that although it"accepts that the USA is in favour of a new standard", it "requires further clarification, in particular regarding the phase-out of the noisiest Chapter 3 aircraft" - in other words, hushkitted aircraft.

Source: Flight International