New noise rules may bar some Stage 3 a/c

 - May 27, 2008, 10:26 AM

The European Commission (EC) has issued revised noise proposals that abandon its earlier demands for a blanket ban on hush-kitted aircraft with mtow of more than 75,000 lb using any airports in the 15-state European Union (EU) after this coming April. But the new draft directive, published on November 28, leaves open the possibility of a limited number of individual airports being able to exclude or restrict “marginal Stage 3” aircraft.

The proposed legislation is expected to be put before the European Parliament this month and ratified by the EU Council of Ministers before April. The EC has said that it will formally withdraw the controversial hush-kit ban that it introduced in April 1999.

The Bush Administration has guardedly welcomed the EU’s revised stance. The Departments of Transportation and Commerce have reserved full judgment on the new policy until they have had the opportunity to prepare a full response to the details of the directive. However, a DOT statement said that the formal removal of the original EU hush-kit ban would be an important step toward ending the dispute.

The new proposals were drafted up by the EC transport directorate in response to a compromise reached at September’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) general assembly in Montreal. This was aimed at settling a bitter 2.5-year dispute between Europe and the U.S., which had angrily insisted that the so-called “hush-kit ban” was anti-competitive in that it would tend to discriminate against U.S.-built aircraft.

The new EC position is that airports that are deemed to be especially noise sensitive will be permitted to require that “marginally compliant aircraft” (meaning those that after hush-kitting fall within only five or fewer decibels of the Stage 3 standard) should be “withdrawn from service from that airport over a period of no less than five years.” However, the airports will first have to have considered less severe options for restricting the noise effect of these aircraft.

One possible source of continued transatlantic conflict on the noise issue is the U.S. insistence that ICAO’s so-called “balanced approach” settlement makes no provision for a category of “marginally compliant” aircraft. The DOT is insisting that the ICAO agreement requires noise issues to be evaluated strictly on their own merits at each airport, rather than by using a predetermined formula. The ICAO resolution allows member states to take this “airport-by-airport” approach to noise reduction, provided that the case for excluding aircraft is based on “objective measurable criteria.”

Airports will be required to submit a full cost-benefit analysis to establish that whatever measures are taken achieve environmental improvements in a cost-effective manner. This evaluation process is required to be completely transparent, with full consultation with all parties concerned. The EC draft proposals indicate that it will, for instance, be willing to make concessions to developing world airlines that cannot realistically be expected to replace noisier aircraft on short notice.

According to the EC, provided an airport has met the directive’s requirements for enforcing its own noise measures, it will be able to ban the addition of “marginal Stage 3” aircraft from June 2004. Starting June 2005, the airports would be permitted to oblige operators to remove these aircraft from service at a rate of one out of every five aircraft operated (20 percent) into that airport.

The European branch of the Airports Council International has attacked the EC for opting for an airport-by-airport approach, rather than setting firm national or regional limits for aircraft noise. It argued that the “balanced approach” would result in anti-competitive variations in noise policy within Europe that could place some airports and airlines at an unfair disadvantage. European airport managers have historically been eager to impose tough noise restrictions to head off powerful environmental lobbies that can wreak havoc with infrastructure development plans and operating restrictions.

Separately, the European Court of Justice’s panel of 11 judges is expected soon to endorse the recent recommendation of its advocate general that the court should overturn an EC ban on the operation of aircraft weighing more than 75,000 lb re-engined with powerplants that have a bypass ratio of less than 1:1.

An appeal against the EC directive had been made by U.S. company Omega Air in support of its Seven Q Seven program to retrofit aging Boeing 707s with Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 engines. These turbofans meet Stage 3 noise requirements, but not the EC’s bypass-ratio rule.