Crunch time for emissions verification

 - April 1, 2011, 7:05 AM

Hundreds of aircraft operators in Europe and around the world were scrambling last month to meet the March 31 deadline to complete the requirements for monitoring, reporting and verification of 2010 engine emissions under the European Union’s emissions trading scheme (ETS). In scenes that have characterized just about every stage in the ETS process so far, the industry has been forced to deal with a chaotic and chronically confused administrative process that has turned the system into a costly fiasco.

Continued confusion about how the system is supposed to work in the various European states responsible for enforcement raised serious doubts as to whether all operators would be able to meet the compliance date. Those who do not comply face the prospect of stiff financial penalties and the threat of being barred from European airports. These threats come from European officials who have consistently failed to meet their own deadlines and who even now seem to be woefully ill prepared to implement ETS in a coherent way.

A key problem for operators was that the European Union took until March 2 to launch the long-awaited ETS Support Facility–less than a month before the compliance deadline. The facility is supposed to provide a simplified means of compliance for thousands of smaller operators.

Worse still, states including the UK, Ireland and Germany opened their online reporting portals only two or three weeks ahead of the deadline, creating a bottleneck for operators trying to complete the process. Software shortcomings in the UK and Irish portals mean that many operators will be obliged to input data manually rather than upload reports automatically, as had been intended.

Other EU states, in theory, will allow operators to simply e-mail their data in standard Excel spreadsheet templates. However, there is still widespread confusion about exactly how the data should be structured and what supporting documentation is required. Many states waited until just a few weeks ago to approve the independent verification companies that are needed to complete the process.

Spain unilaterally brought forward the reporting and verification deadline to February 28, arguing that its officials would otherwise not be able to process the reports in time. This was despite the fact that these same officials have spent most of the past two years dithering and procrastinating over the ETS implementation process.

Third-party ETS Resources

Nonetheless, help has been on hand from far more industrious and resourceful flight planners and ETS support providers.

U.S.-based Shockwave Aviation is currently helping more than 80 business aircraft operators to navigate the ETS minefield. It creates and writes monitoring plans, monitors emissions and helps to prepare ETS reports, where necessary acting as a liaison with the independent verifier.

ETS Aviation, with offices in Portugal and the UK, has been supporting more than 100 operators and took on more than 10 new clients in March alone as operators scrambled to meet the deadline. CEO David Carlisle told AIN that most operators will probably be able to complete the process just in time, but he admitted that many of them have been slow to “wake up to ETS.”

He said that authorities are partly to blame for failing to follow through on disciplinary action that had been threatened back in 2009 when operators were supposed to file monitoring plans. In fact, UK officials are now known to have fined at least two operators for non-compliance with earlier deadlines.

Carlisle’s company has invested heavily in developing software to automate the ETS monitoring and reporting process. When the UK and Irish online reporting portals were belatedly posted in March, ETS Aviation, which works closely with several flight-planning groups including Jeppesen, Colt International and Baseops, had to adapt the software quickly to overcome the need to resort to purely manual data entry.

Both ETS Aviation and Shockwave highlighted instances in which Eurocontrol records of flights falling under the ETS jurisdiction have proved to be grossly inaccurate. Shockwave founder Aaron Misko pointed to the example of an operator who was told by the national authority to which it was assigned that it had recorded no flights in Europe during 2010, and was therefore exempt from ETS report. In fact, it had made many flights into and within Europe but Eurocontrol simply had no record of them.

Rockwell Collins Flight Information Solutions (formerly Air Routing International) is providing its flight-planning clients with filtered data isolating flights that fall under the ETS remit as a complimentary service. They can compare this with their own operational records to prepare ETS reports.

For rates ranging between $1,000 and $2,500 (depending on the volume of flight activity), the company will prepare reports for clients. Rick Snider from Rockwell Collins’s international flight operations support team said that the main rush to complete clients’ reports is now passed, but he did acknowledge that verifiers are backed up with the final stage of the process.

As with Shockwave and ETS Aviation, Rockwell Collins works with a selection of independent verifiers. Universal Weather & Aviation has taken a different approach, teaming with CICS to offer a combined monitoring, reporting and verification package for $3,000. Of this fee, $1,100 is charged for sorting the flight data into a format that operators can use to file their ETS reports.

Universal’s online ETS reporting portal allows users to create a secure folder online in which they can retain flight plans to support their reports, along with all other supporting documentation. They can directly upload this information to CICS for verification.

To complete verification, operators need to provide the verifier with invoices from the Eurocontrol charging office. As things stand, flight-planning companies receive records of these invoices in blocks covering multiple operators’ flights.

As things stand, Universal will release these invoices only to CICS, arguing that it has to protect the proprietary information contained in the invoices and can ensure this only by using a verifier with which it has a contractual agreement. Universal indicated that it would be willing to extend this agreement to other verifiers that its clients might want to use instead of being restricted to CICS.

The alternative for operators is to be directly billed by Eurocontrol and get their own invoices. They can also pay €400 ($554) to get a separate summary of their own flights from Eurocontrol, the European ATC agency. Rockwell Collins said that it has found a way to separate individual client invoices so as to be able to distribute these to verifiers for free. o