EU-U.S. hush-kit battle ends in ‘balanced approach’ pact

 - May 6, 2008, 6:45 AM

Politically, the European Union had to replace the controversial hush-kit regulation to avoid continuation of the U.S./EU dispute as per Article 84 of the ICAO Convention before this April 1. The EU’s recent adoption of the new directive on airport operating restrictions officially ended the so-called hush-kit war.

ICAO 33rd Assembly’s unanimous adoption of Resolution 33/7 last October is a success in view of the widely divergent positions of the U.S., Europe and third-world countries on environmental measures. On aircraft noise, the “balanced approach” is accepted. It considers all means of noise reduction, and not just noise at source, but also land-use planning and management, noise-abatement operational procedures and operating restrictions.

There is no global phaseout of marginally Stage 3-compliant aircraft, but the principal of regional flexibility for noise-sensitive regions, such as Europe, is accepted and will be treated on an airport-to-airport basis. Any local restriction needs to be developed in accordance with the ICAO resolution.

However, the assembly acknowledged that states have “legal obligations, laws, existing arrangements and established policies that may govern management of noise problems, and that could affect implementation of the internationally agreed balanced approach.” It also “urges states not to impose any operating restrictions on Stage 3-compliant aircraft except as part of the balanced approach to noise management and in accordance with the guidance contained in the resolution.”

To avoid having individual airports under political pressure from surrounding populations considering more local, non-harmonized access rules and operating restrictions, the European Commission has issued a new directive on operating restrictions at airports.

The directive “on the establishment of principles for noise management and rules and procedures for the introduction of operating restrictions, including those aimed at the withdrawal of certain civil subsonic jet airplanes at community airports,” was approved in its first reading by the European Council on March 26.

For the European community the objective is to prevent an increase, and preferably achieve a decrease, in the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise. European civil airports with more than 50,000 annual movements of civil subsonic jets can be considered as “noise sensitive” following a noise-assessment process, leading to the introduction of operating restrictions. The directive creates a new “city airports” category, which contains provisions for more stringent measures. Civil subsonic jets are defined as aircraft with an mtow of 34,000 kg (74,960 lb) or more, or certified for more than 19 passenger seats.

Competent authorities will not introduce operating restrictions aimed at the withdrawal of noncompliant aircraft at an airport before first considering other measures to address the noise problem, namely the foreseeable effect of a reduction of noise at source, land-use planning, noise-abatement operational procedures and other possible noise-management measures.

Operating restrictions shall mean noise-related action that limits or reduces access
of civil subsonic airplanes to an airport. They include operating restrictions aimed at the withdrawal from operations of marginally compliant airplanes at specific airports, as well as operating restrictions of a partial nature that affect the operation of civil jets according to certain time periods.

Operational restrictions considered for noise-sensitive airports include a gradual withdrawal of noncompliant aircraft, defined as aircraft not meeting Stage 3 limits with a cumulative margin of more than 5 EPNdB.

The balanced approach in dealing with noise problems at airports means that, when considering operating restrictions, member states shall take into account the likely costs and benefits of the various measures available, as well as airport-specific characteristics. Performance-based operating restrictions will be based on the noise performance of the aircraft as determined by the ICAO certification procedure.

The rules of environmental-impact assessment have been defined. Operational restrictions cannot be introduced less than six months after the completion of the assessment. Additionally, the rate of retirement of marginally compliant aircraft cannot exceed 20 percent per year.

City airports may introduce measures that are more stringent, provided they do not affect civil subsonic jets that comply, through either original certification or recertification, with the new Stage 4 noise standards. Existing operating restrictions remain valid. Exemptions for airplanes registered in developing countries are defined for a maximum of 10 years.

During the consultation process, the European Business Aviation Association expressed concerns about “city airports.” Supported by the European Regions Airline Association (ERA), they succeeded in having the original definition amended to a less restrictive one. Paris Le Bourget was originally included in the list of city airports, but it escaped from that category thanks to the introduction of a reference to available runway length. Berlin Tempelhof, Stockholm Bromma, London City and Belfast City, however, are designated as “city airports.”

The final text endorses the “balanced approach” concept adopted at the ICAO Assembly, recognizes “the legitimate interest of the air-transport sector in applying cost-effective solutions for meeting noise-management goals,” and states that “operators should be given a reasonable period of advance notice when new operating restrictions are to be introduced.”

Business aircraft, although generally less noisy than the bigger airliners, even if they escape in most cases due to their weight (often less than the 34,000-kg limit), are still affected as airport access remains the priority.

The EU also wants to introduce harmonized minimum criteria for the measurement and monitoring of aviation noise at and around airports. The noise-measurement systems should allow identification of noise emissions from individual aircraft by combining measured noise levels with flight-path monitoring by radar.