ICAO May Have Emissions Plan by March

 - July 3, 2012, 5:20 AM

Opponents of the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) were heartened last month when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) announced it expects to have a draft proposal on how to mitigate carbon dioxide from aircraft by next March.

ICAO Secretary-General Raymond Benjamin said on June 18 that the governing council of the United Nations body that oversees civil aviation worldwide would discuss “market-based measures” to reduce emissions the following week.

The ICAO initiative came in the same month that Russia became the first country to take direct retaliatory action against EU aircraft operators when it refused to grant new overflight rights to Finnair and abandoned a commitment to allow new rights to be used free of charge. On June 8 the Russian government confirmed that it had deliberately singled out Finnair for punishment as an EU-based carrier and that it intends to punish other EU airlines in the same way–probably starting with Scandinavian Airline System, since Russia is currently in a standoff with the governments of Sweden, Norway and Denmark over traffic rights.

Benjamin planned to ask delegates at the session to eliminate one of four options that have been under discussion. He said others could be ruled out when the council meets again this fall. “I believe that the turning point will be in March next year, when we will put one option on the table, if all goes well,” he said.

The often acrimonious debate over the EU-ETS, which has threatened to ignite a trade war between long-time allies, may have been diffused, at least for the time being. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a Senate committee in early June that the Obama Administration “has not taken a position” on anti-ETS legislation working its way through Congress, but is actively studying the possibility of filing an Article 84 complaint with ICAO.

Describing the European plan as “precedent setting,” the former Republican congressman declared, “This is not the way to treat your friends.” In October, the House passed a bill that would prohibit all flights originating in the U.S. from participating in the EU scheme, and the Senate hearing addressed similar legislation now before that body.

According to LaHood, he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote to their counterparts in the EU and member states strongly objecting to the imposition of EU-ETS on U.S. air operators.

“We called on the EU to halt EU-ETS application to non-EU airlines and re-engage with the rest of the world to find a global solution for aviation greenhouse gas emissions at [ICAO],” he said. Otherwise, the U.S. would be compelled to take “appropriate action.”

NBAA president Ed Bolen testified that the EU plan is “fatally flawed” and said “as badly as commercial airlines are treated, noncommercial aviation is treated even worse.” He told the lawmakers that an airline can fly from Chile to Europe twice a day using a four-engine Airbus A340 without being subjected to the EU-ETS because commercial carriers that operate only two flights per day to or from Europe have been deemed “small emitters,” and thus are exempted from the scheme.

“Yet a U.S.-based farm equipment company that flies to Europe once a year on a U.S.-built general aviation airplane will be subjected to the EU-ETS,” Bolen said. “Why? Because it is a ‘noncommercial’ flight and the ‘small emitter exemption’ is not available to ‘noncommercial’ operators.”