FAA Hitting the Green

 - July 5, 2007, 11:43 AM

Speaking at an International Civil Aviation Organization meeting on emissions held in Montreal, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told several hundred government aviation officials and industry representatives that perceptions that aviation does not care about the environment and that it is responsible for a great deal of greenhouse gases are incorrect.

“Frankly, there are some strange portraits of aviation today,” she said. “Some see it as a rogue industry on the order of tobacco, as a greenhouse dragon that needs to be slain. Some companies are deciding they won’t import goods from the developing world because of their carbon footprint.”

Cars and trucks represent 21 percent of greenhouse gases and power plants 33 percent, while aviation comes in at less than 3 percent, said Blakey. Nevertheless, she conceded that aviation still needs to do all that it can to get its house in order.
“In fact, given the continued expansion of air travel and commerce expected over the next two decades, aircraft greenhouse gas emissions might become a serious barrier to aviation growth long-term,” she warned.

Blakey said that the Partnership for Air Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction (Partner) was created in 2003 to bring together the best and the brightest minds in academia, industry, communities and government. The FAA, NASA and Transport Canada sponsor a Partner Center of Excellence operationally based at MIT.

“Together with my colleagues at Transport Canada and NASA, we’ve tasked the group with helping us identify the issues and find the solutions we need that allow aviation to grow while reducing its environmental impact,” she said.

In her remarks, Blakey cited several Partner projects, including the development of continuous descent arrival (CDA). “In less than two years, we started implementing a procedure developed by Partner research–continuous descent arrival,” she said. “CDA reduces noise, threats to local air quality and greenhouse gases. That’s a hat trick.”

Lauding another achievement, she said that Partner researchers have also helped the FAA step up to a critical operational issue, determining compliance with local air quality standards for particulates. But the agency had no data or models to use as a reference. “Earlier this year, we released a new version of our air quality model that incorporates particulate emissions,” Blakey said.

Partner comprises 12 universities and approximately 50 advisory board members. The advisory board includes aerospace manufacturers; airlines; airports; national, state and local governments; professional and trade associations; and non-governmental organizations and community groups.

As an incentive to collaboration, equal matches are required for federal dollars granted to Partner. The universities provide some of these matching funds, but most are obtained from organizations represented on the advisory board.

Blakey told attendees that Partner is at the forefront of developing a new analytical capability that has the potential to revolutionize her agency as it develops environmental regulations. She said its work will allow the FAA to focus on impacts and optimize benefits.

“Aviation must effectively manage its environmental impact,” Blakey asserted. “And frankly, I’m not interested in hiding behind the argument that says, ‘We’re less than three percent of the greenhouse gases.’ This issue is much bigger.”