Aviation industry aims to build cleaner and quieter planes
The aviation industry has announced plans to cut emissions from new planes by 50% over the next 15 years and reduce noise pollution by a similar factor - but the gains will be lost as air travel soars to around triple its current level by 2035.
Most of Britain's airlines, airports and aeronautical engineers have signed up to the targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in a move to show the industry is not unaware of concerns over climate change.
But while environmentalists have given the commitment a cautious welcome, they say that unless it is combined with an effort to reduce the number of planes in the sky it will not solve the problem.
Calling for an end to tax-free air fuel, lack of VAT on flights and duty free goods for long haul passengers, Friends of the Earth's aviation campaigner Richard Dyer said: "It's high time the aviation industry did more to reduce the damage air travel has on the environment.
"Today's commitments are welcome, but technological improvements will be overwhelmed by an increase in flights unless the Government ends the nine billion pound tax subsidy that fuels this growth." (see related story).
"Aviation is the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide. "If the Government is serious about fighting climate change it must tackle air travel and review plans to allow a massive expansion in flights."
But the Government seems to be taking the view that something is better than nothing and has welcomed the industry's offer.
Aviation minister Karen Buck said: "The Government is pleased that the industry has recognised its environmental responsibility and is responding proactively.
"Rapid growth in aviation carries significant impacts, particularly in relation to climate change and the environment around our airports.
"The Government is responding by arguing for emissions trading to tackle climate change effects and by introducing the Civil Aviation Bill to give new powers to tackle noise and local pollution issues.
"We look to the industry to take their strategy forward energetically so that aviation contributes to a sustainable society."
The moves are seen as too little too late by pressure group the Aviation Environment Federation, however.
In a study published last week Fly Now, Grieve Later the federation warns that air travel is set to become the largest single contributor to climate change and its increasing impact will undermine efforts being made by other industries to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Brendon Sewill, the author of the study, argues that bringing the aviation industry into the emissions trading scheme will be a futile exercise and scrapping tax concessions would be a far more powerful tool with which to combat climate change.
He claims that British Airways, for example, would only need to buy permits to cover a quarter of a per cent of the damage caused by their CO2 emissions.
"No wonder the airlines like the emissions trading scheme so much," said Mr Sewill. "No one is suggesting that people should stop flying, merely that with fair tax, the soaring growth in air travel would be slowed down."
By Sam Bond