Enivronmental impact of air transport industry under the microscope

Plans by the European Commission to establish environmental policy for the air transport sector have coincided with talks by environmental inspectors working across Europe on how to measure airports' environmental impacts.

Impel, the organisation that represents environmental inspectors working within the EU, has agreed to develop plans for measuring a wide range of airport environmental impacts. The group met in Helsinki in early December, where the issue of airports was discussed.

“There was a proposal put forward by the Netherlands on airports’ impacts on land,” Terry Shears of Impel told edie. “The conclusion was that it would be wrong to look only at the environmental impacts on land by airports and that it would be appropriate to look at the whole issue of airports and the environment.”

Shears admits that some Impel members did not support such a broad approach to airports’ environmental impacts. “There was a bit of reluctance to look at the whole environmental picture – there are so many players and so many political issues. Italy was particularly vociferous in arguing for an expansion of the issues beyond impacts on land.”

As a result, Italy is the ‘lead country’ and its Impel representative will present a proposal to the wider membership, probably at Impel’s next meeting in Portugal, in May 2000.

Whether Impel can move the environmental regulation of Europe’s airports forward remains to be seen. “It depends on what terms of reference Italy produces – whether they will be things that Impel can achieve” says Shears.

Impel’s talks on environmental impacts of airports coincidentally coincided with a European Commission announcement on air transport environmental policy. EC vice president, Loyola de Palacio, who is responsible for transport and energy, has worked with environment commissioner Margot Wallström on a framework for environmental regulation of air transport. Proposed legislation is planned for the second half of 2000.

Palacio wants the growing air transport sector to confront the fact that current trends in its environmental impacts represent a significant threat to climate change and air quality. As a result, Palacio has confirmed that the EC will abandon its single focus on technical standards for the industry and will develop an ‘integrated’ approach. It will also promote its policy on the international stage by using it as a negotiating position with the International Civil Aviation Association.

The EC’s framework for air transport environmental policy will focus on the following areas:

  • promotion of more restrictive international standards for aircraft noise and emissions. If international negotiations fail an EU-wide standard will be necessary
  • exploration of options in aircraft fuel taxation to be applied internationally, including studies on emission trading, carbon offsets and alternative forms of environmental tax
  • common noise classification scheme for the EU, with a standard index and method for calculating noise exposure levels, noise monitoring, noise zoning and land-use rules

The need for international restrictions on the environmental impacts of air transport was emphasised by Palacio on 6 December when she addressed the air transport industry conference Beyond Open Skies in Chicago. “The environment is a political priority on our side of the Atlantic,” said Palacio. “We need to ensure that our open market is effective while at the same time addressing serious environmental challenges. Environmental issues have in the past divided the US and Europe. We can only effectively do something in this important area if we can set aside the polemic. We need to address the environment together and set new standards.”

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