U.S. Faces Emissions Challenge

 - January 4, 2008, 5:53 AM

Former General Aviation Manufacturers Association president Ed Stimpson, now U.S. ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), warned that a “fundamental philosophical difference” between the U.S. and Europe over how to reduce aviation emissions will present a major challenge to U.S. representatives in the coming months.

“If aircraft noise has presented a challenge over the past few years,” he said, “engine emissions are clearly becoming the next source of conflict. As with noise, the debate in ICAO on emissions tends to divide the U.S. and Europe.”

Compounding that schism is the U.S. disavowal of the Kyoto Protocol as well as differing views on what appears to be the most reasonable market-based option to deal with aircraft emissions. Market-based options include voluntary measures, emissions trading and taxes and charges.

ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) is addressing aviation emissions through a combination of technology, operational measures and market-based options. Although most members agree on the need to pursue technology, there is an understanding that there are no “silver bullets” on the horizon, and any new technology would take years or decades to implement. The group also agrees that operational measures can be effective in reducing emissions.

Stimpson said the difficult issue is determining what mix of market-based options should be applied to reduce emissions. While continuing to study the potential of emissions trading schemes, the U.S. favors voluntary measures taken by the industry to reduce emissions to certain target levels.

“The Europeans, while also supporting further study of emissions trading, have indicated their intent to impose some form of environmental taxes or charges,” he told the Washington Aero Club recently. “The difference between the two approaches is simple–voluntary measures allow the industry to take cost-effective measures and to continue to grow, whereas the purpose of taxes or charges is to reduce demand for air travel by driving up costs.”

The U.S. sees itself at a further disadvantage because nine of the 19 CAEP members are from Europe, making it important that Washington gains support from countries that agree with its positions on the environment. The FAA is leading the U.S. effort on the committee with cooperation from the Departments of Commerce and State, the Environmental Protection Agency and the aviation industry. The next CAEP meeting is next February and its recommendations will be considered by the next ICAO assembly in the fall of next year.

Until recently, the U.S. and the European Union were at loggerheads after the EU put in place a regulation that restricted the use of certain re-engined and hush-kitted aircraft in Europe because of its noise standards. The U.S. took the issue to the ICAO council as an illegal and discriminatory action in violation of the Chicago Convention.

In October 2001, according to Stimpson, both sides of the Atlantic and the ICAO assembly unanimously endorsed a “balanced approach,” which outlines an airport-by-airport process of assessment and analysis to ensure that actions taken to address noise complaints are the most cost-effective means available.

Europe withdrew the hush-kit regulation and replaced it with a “directive” containing the principles of the ICAO resolution and the balanced approach to noise management. EU member states have until this coming September to implement the directive, and Stimpson said the U.S. “is watching closely” to ensure that any new rules reflect the principles agreed to at ICAO. But he added that early returns are “clearly a mixed bag, as some countries continue to take steps in contravention not just of the ICAO resolution, but even EU law.”

In addition to Europe’s overwhelming majority on CAEP, the U.S. is greatly underrepresented in the overall ICAO workforce of nearly 700 people based in Montreal, a situation the former GAMA leader termed a “key issue.”

As an arm of the United Nations, the 188-member-nation ICAO follows a formula called Equitable Geographic Representation (EGR) for hiring citizens from member states. Under EGR, 27 U.S. citizens should be working for the ICAO Secretariat in professional positions.

But Stimpson revealed that currently there are only 13 Americans working for ICAO, the worst record of any U.N. organization for hiring U.S. citizens. And while he acknowledged that the FAA has undertaken a proactive program to encourage more qualified U.S. citizens to apply, he admitted that he was recruiting for several key jobs, including director of the air navigation bureau, which is traditionally a U.S. position. “I simply can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have Americans working at ICAO,” he said.