EU aircraft emissions proposals face delays

Plans to cut NOx emissions, noise, may not happen at all, says Commission official

Two proposals being drafted by European Commission directorates to reduce environmental impacts from aircraft face severe delays and may not ever see the light of day, a Commission official has told ENDS Daily. According to several sources, the two proposals - on emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and noise levels - are being held up by disagreement between member states, opposition from airlines, failure to reach an international agreement and internal squabbles in the Commission.

Environmental problems related to aircraft are an increasing priority in Europe and internationally as rising traffic threatens to swamp the effect of technical and other improvements. Passenger traffic on European airlines has risen almost 10% over the past year alone, the Association of European Airlines (AEA) reported recently. This summer, it was forecast that aircraft emissions would grow five-fold by 2100 on current trends (ENDS Daily 26 August).

In 1995, the environment committee of the International Civil Aviation Organisation proposed that NOx emission limits for new aircraft should be cut from present levels by 16%. Due largely to opposition from the USA, no agreement was reached. In response, the European Commission's environment and transport directorates are proposing that the EU legislate to cut emissions unilaterally.

One draft paper currently circulating in the Commission envisages cutting allowable NOx emissions from new aircraft by 16% by 2002, applicable to existing engines by 2007. A Commission official told ENDS Daily that the proposed reductions were "very minimal" and "perfectly possible to meet technically". However, a spokesman for the AEA said that airlines would find it "very hard" to meet the proposed cuts.

Whichever side is right, the proposal looks to be going nowhere fast. "I doubt it will happen," one Commission official told ENDS Daily, blaming opposition from some -unspecified - EU member states and industry groups. Meanwhile, sources in the airline industry suggest that the real reason is disagreement within the Commission, and particularly between the environment and industry directorates.

A similar fate appears to have befallen a proposal to draw up a directive to cut noise from new aircraft by 3 decibels. The proposal is "not going anywhere at all," according to one official, who cited opposition from industry and several member states as the main reason for the delay. Betraying some frustration at the slow progress, the official suggested that airports follow the Swiss example and take unilateral action to reduce noise and NOx emissions (ENDS Daily 29 August).

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: + 32 2 295 1111; Association of European Airlines, tel: + 32 2 627 0600.

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