Airlines for America (A4A) believes the cost of complying with the carbon-offsetting scheme the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) approved last month will be “manageable” and preferable to any national or regional effort to regulate aviation emissions. The trade organization representing most major U.S. carriers applauded the ICAO agreement during a conference call with reporters on November 2.
Meeting last month in Montreal, the ICAO assembly approved a carbon-offsetting strategy designed to cap carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions growth from international flights after 2020. As of October 12, 66 of 191 member nations had agreed to participate in the voluntary pilot phase of the global market-based measure (GMBM) scheme, with India and Russia among notable hold-outs. The participating nations represent 86 percent of international air traffic, according to ICAO.
“This is truly a historic agreement, when you have 191 countries coming together and saying from 2020 onward we will deal with the growth emissions, and that is the part that the world is most anxious about,” said Nancy Young, A4A vice president of environmental affairs. “Being 2 percent of global emissions at this point for international aviation is not insignificant, but the real worry is the potential for growth.”
The GMBM is one of a number of steps—including technological improvements to engines and airframes, air traffic management operational efficiencies and the use of alternative fuels—by which the industry plans to fill a gap in emissions growth that will open in the coming years absent any reduction measures. In February, ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) approved a CO2 emissions certification standard for new aircraft type designs as of 2020.
A4A has not expressed what the cost to U.S. airlines will be of complying with the so-called Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which does not apply to domestic flights. Instead, the U.S. group refers to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) position on the cost impact of the GMBM scheme.
In comments it submitted during the debate in Montreal, IATA cited an analysis by the CAEP technical committee. The CAEP estimated that a global offsetting scheme to support the goal of carbon neutral growth after 2020 would cost the industry between $2.2 billion and $6.2 billion in 2025, with increasing amounts in 2030 and 2035. Depending on the year of reference, operators would be able to achieve the carbon neutral growth goal by paying on average between $2.66 and $18.82 per ton of CO2 emitted.
IATA also provided examples of the estimated per-flight cost of a GMBM scheme on various city pairs as of 2030. The estimates at the low end range from $51 to $131 for a Boeing 737-800 flying from Casablanca to Madrid; to a high end of $2,542 to $6,585 for an Airbus A380 flying from Dubai to Sydney.
“Essentially what both the ICAO and IATA analysis showed is that although significant, the cost is manageable as a regulatory matter,” Young said. She added: “We’re not keen to produce a cost number but you can look at it in terms of percentages of the projections on the international level.”
The CORSIA scheme has voluntary pilot and first phases, from 2021 through 2023 and from 2024 through 2026, respectively. A second phase from 2027 through 2035 applies to all nations that have a certain share of international traffic as measured in revenue ton kilometers. Both IATA and A4A contend the global measure is a more cost-effective way to help achieve carbon neutral growth after 2020 than regional measures such as the controversial European Union emissions trading scheme.
Speaking at a meeting of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative in Washington, D.C., on October 25, Young told attendees “it irritates me to read when people say the voluntary approach weakens the [ICAO] measure.” She expressed the same thought during the A4A conference call.
“It’s a 15-year scheme, but the first six years of coverage are being covered on an opt-in basis; essentially countries volunteer to be covered under the system, and at this point 66 countries have done that,” Young said. “I have seen some criticism that that’s a voluntary approach, but actually it’s a tremendous amount of coverage.”