EU delays hushkit rule after US pressure

Aircraft noise regulation postponed while transatlantic talks seek to avoid trade dispute

The EU's transport ministers have delayed new aviation noise rules which would have frozen the number of "hushkitted" aircraft allowed to use European airports from Thursday. Instead of adopting the new regulation without discussion as planned, ministers meeting in Brussels today opted to wait for four weeks to allow talks to continue between the European Commission and the US to see if any "technical" changes might make it more acceptable to the Americans.

The decision follows a tour of Europe's capitals by the US transport secretary Rodney Slater, who met with various national ministers and acting EU transport commissioner Neil Kinnock to ask for the delay last week (ENDS Daily 25 March). The US has threatened possible action through the World Trade Organisation, as it believes the proposed regulation would discriminate unfairly against sales of second hand US-built aircraft.

The EU claims the rule is needed in the face of growing numbers of older aircraft - many of them exported by US airlines which are having to renew their fleets - which are retrofitted with mufflers to meet international noise standards. In the Commission's view, they are also less energy efficient and emit considerably higher levels of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides during take-off and landing.

Today's decision to postpone the regulation is very unusual as the text had already been agreed by ministers last year and passed its second reading in the European Parliament without amendment. Paradoxically, ministers said that the regulation will be adopted in its current form at the end of April, but that the US and the EU will try to identify "modifications that are compatible" with it.

Any such modifications would have to be returned for parliamentary scrutiny, presumably after the European elections in June. The move is likely to anger MEPs who amended the draft legislation at its first reading to speed up its entry into force by changing it from a "directive" to a "regulation." The start date of 1 April is explicitly written into the text.

Mr Kinnock treated today's decision as a victory for common sense, saying: "The US now understands that the EU is introducing the law to improve noise control [...] and not for any trade reasons." The delay had gone some way to placating the US which now says it will back the EU's calls for stricter aviation noise standards to be agreed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The EU will also hope that the US Congress's plans to ban the European supersonic jet Concorde will now come to nothing, although it is believed that the US has given no assurances on this issue.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: + 32 2 285 6111.

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