The airline lobby has broadly welcomed last week’s sudden announcement by the European Commission that it would suspend the application of its emissions trading scheme (ETS) for flights in and out of the European Union. However, European airlines have protested the fact that the ETS will still apply to intra-EU flights, arguing that the exception poses an anti-competitive cost burden that most non-EU operators will not now have to carry.
On November 12, climate change commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that the EU would suspend the application of the ETS for flights in and out of its 27 member states for about 11 months pending an anticipated agreement on a multilateral global alternative scheme by the ICAO Assembly in September/October 2013. She said that a push for an alternative worldwide market-based mechanism triggered “stopping the clock” on ETS implementation by a November 9 ICAO Council decision. However, the commissioner warned that if ICAO fails to achieve “an international deal” the EC would “automatically” reinstate the application of the ETS for movements to and from the EU next fall. She also stressed that the ETS will still apply for all intra-EU flights, regardless of whether or not their operators are based in the EU. Officially, the EU member states still must approve the major policy reversal, but Hedegaard made it clear that she had consulted with them before making the high-profile announcement.
The International Air Transport Association welcomed the EC announcement. “The flexibility shown by the European Commission demonstrates that the ICAO process is working, and we look forward to seeing all parties working together to present positive proposals to the ICAO Assembly in September 2013,” said director general and CEO Tony Tyler. However, in a joint statement, the European Regions Airline Association and the International Air Carrier Association said that retaining the ETS for intra-EU flights “will continue to impose cost and complexity on intra-EU operations with little or no overall environmental benefit.” The associations said that the compromise “unfairly penalizes many European carriers” and called on EU member states and the European Parliament to suspend the ETS for all flights.