Anyone in the air transport sector who remains unconvinced by the clarion calls for aviation to be held accountable for its impact on the environment will surely accept that sustained increases in the cost of jet fuel have removed any remaining doubt about the imperative for the industry to make more efficient use of this life-blood commodity. And whether the climate-change deniers like it or not, airlines operating into and within Europe will soon be facing the additional financial burden of being subject to the European Union’s environmental trading scheme (ETS), which will require them to account for and pay for the carbon their aircraft emit.
The finer details of how ETS–which other industries are already subject to–will be applied to air transport are still being resolved, with the European Commission and the European Parliament holding different positions on issues such as what initial carbon credits airlines will be granted. In any case, ETS will come into effect no later than 2012 and by the time of the next Farnborough airshow in 2010 carriers will already be required to calculate their carbon footprint to be ready to join ETS.
While the air transport lobby in Europe has effectively accepted ETS as unavoidable, it is still fighting against moves at national levels by countries such as the UK and the Netherlands to impose additional green taxes on aviation. There has been staunch opposition from the U.S. to the notion that its carriers will be subject to ETS when they fly into Europe, but more recently America’s political tide on the environment seems to be turning toward an acceptance that some form of carbon capping is inevitable.
So apart from hiring yet more accountants to count carbon emissions and negotiate new fuel price hedge positions in what is undoubtedly a seller’s market, what can air transport do to ensure a sustainable future for itself in the long term? The rising cost of jet-A and the prospect of emissions trading have provided an even stronger impetus to a multi-pronged drive to find technological answers to aviation’s green dilemma.
In the report that follows, AIN staffers outline some of the main initiatives being advanced to reduce aviation’s environmental impact, while also sharpening its competitive edge at a time when its cost structure is facing the prospect of some uncomfortable buffeting.