EU bows to US pressure on aircraft hushkits

Aviation noise regulation delayed for a year; USA and EU to seek better global standard

The EU has postponed for one year a planned regulation that would have frozen the number of aircraft fitted with special noise reduction equipment, or hushkits, entitled to use its airports. Taken by industry ministers in Luxembourg yesterday, the decision ends months of speculation over whether the EU would bow to pressure from the USA, which has campaigned against the measure.

Only recently EU transport commissioner Neil Kinnock stated publicly that the regulation - which had already been delayed for one month to give time for negotiations between the EU and the USA - would definitely come into force on 1 May (ENDS Daily 19 April 1999). But when ministers adopted the regulation yesterday, they also delayed its implementation until 29 April 2000.

The apparent U-turn is a result of concerted lobbying by the USA, which accused the EU of erecting a trade barrier against its older jets - many of which are reaching the end of their commercial life in the US and are destined for export. The USA used a combination of threats of retaliatory trade action if the EU went ahead with the measure, and a promise to cooperate to get a new, stricter, international standard on aircraft noise if it delayed. The US commerce secretary, William Daley, said yesterday that the US would now work to reach "a common understanding on the remedies to [the EU's] noise concerns".

The European Parliament reluctantly agreed to the date change as the "best worst option," according to a parliament official. Although MEPs could have vetoed the modification to the agreed text, under procedural rules this would have blocked the regulation in its entirety.

The delay was immediately slammed by ACI Europe - the trade body that represents Europe's airports. Director general Philippe Hamon said: "European citizens living near airports will have to suffer unnecessarily another year of unlimited growth in the number of noisy hushkitted aircraft". The trade body is pushing for quieter aircraft to offset public fears about noise from traffic growth in western Europe. ACI's own figures show the number of commercial civil flights in principal European airports rose by over 5% in the last year.

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

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