"Breakthrough" EU air transport plan welcomed

Environmentalists, airports, hail aviation and environment action plan, airlines muted

The European Commission's proposals to restrain the environmental impact of air transport are a "real breakthrough" and a clear signal for the aviation industry to change its attitude to the growth of the sector, EU environmental groups said today. Europe's airports have also warmly welcomed the plans, published yesterday, while airlines have given a more neutral response.

The centrepiece of the Commission strategy is a pledge to propose introducing economic incentives to reduce the sector's air emissions (ENDS Daily 1 December). It also contains plans to harmonise rules on noise and begin "substantive discussions" in early 2000 on a voluntary agreement with airlines and aircraft manufacturers to reduce emissions.

The Commission said the plan was needed because the gap between air transport growth and environmental improvement was "unsustainable and must be reversed." Environmental campaigners say it is the first formal admission by the Commission that the sector's strong growth must be curtailed. Jeff Gazzard of Friends of the Earth Europe said it was a "seminal statement" which would now "put people's minds to the task" of tackling the impacts of air transport.

However, the group was disappointed that the strategy shunned the notion of the EU implementing its own tax on aviation fuel. The move was rejected after a Commission study showed it would put "significant pressure" on the industry's competitiveness while reducing total CO2 emissions from the transport sector by only 0.26%.

Meanwhile, European airports said they "fully supported" the Commission's intention to pursue more stringent rules on aircraft noise, and welcomed plans to clarify land-use planning rules around airports. An Airports Council International (ACI) Europe spokesman said it would help to avoid situations where "uncontrolled residential development jeopardises the efficient functioning of airports." "Only 20% of local authorities consult airports when planning around their premises," he said.

Le Thi Mai of the Association of European Airlines (AEA) gave a more guarded response to plans to introduce charges, saying that a formal statement of the carriers' preferred policy options would be made in mid-January. She said some airlines might actually prefer a tax because it would be simple to administer.

However, she said that a voluntary agreement was "probably one of the favourite avenues to be explored." The Commission has already begun talks with industry on an agreement, but Ms Thi Mai said the strategy's suggested goal of a 4-5% annual improvement in fuel efficiency was "very ambitious if not unrealistic."

Follow Up:
"Right Price For Air Travel campaign, tel: +31 20 550 7435; AEA, tel: +32 2 639 8989; ACI-Europe, tel: +32 2 552 0982.

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