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Airlines Pledge Emissions Cuts But Warn EU Curbs Could Jeopardise Sector

Giovanni Bisignani, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
by Staff Writers
Vancouver (AFP) June 05, 2007
Leaders of the world's airline industry said at their annual meeting that airlines will strive to be more "green" and aim for zero carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050, but skeptics question whether the goal is realistic. "I don't have all the answers, but I'm sure research can find the way to achieve zero percent in 50 years. This is realistic," Giovanni Bisignani, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said at the group's annual conference in Vancouver this week.

Bisignani identified reducing emissions as the industry's new priority for the sector, which has revived with expected earnings of five billion dollars for 2007 after several years of losses.

"We have to transform this vision into reality, working with the different actors of this industry," he said at the conference. "We need a global scheme, a common approach to technologies."

But there was skepticism in the corridors of the conference hall over the practicality of reaching the zero emissions target given the relentless growth in air travel.

"With the prospects of an increasing air traffic, between aging populations of OECD countries, emerging markets and continuing globalization of business activity, this can make us sweat," said Michael Levine, a researcher at New York University.

Despite current efforts to reduce fuel consumption by 25 percent by 2020 using existing technologies, the carbon footprint of the civil aviation industry is growing as a portion of global emissions.

"There is no sense" in aiming for zero emissions," said Levine, a former airline executive.

"Technologically, I don't believe in zero emissions. But I believe we have to be responsible for our emissions and declare to the public we're going to make the best efforts we can," he said.

The IATA is counting on scientific advances, through the efforts of air carriers and with the public sector -- including governments, regulators, United Nations -- imposing international standards and creating a carbon emissions trading market.

"To reach zero emissions for carbon dioxide, you need fuel without carbon, that is to say a hydrogen engine," said Trung Ngo, head of communications at the Canadian airline Bombardier.

A hydrogen jet engine, which requires enormous reserves, was already tested in the 1980s, he said.

"It is viable technically, but the problem that remains unresolved to this day is storage. It requires a tremendous compression of hydrogen," Ngo said.

Bio-fuels present an even more daunting challenge.

"It would require some fields as large as Florida to produce 10 percent of the bio fuels needed by the US airlines," said Philippe Rochat, head of the environmental division at IATA.

At the moment, there are only "intermediate solutions" available to the aviation industry, according to Ngo.

"The most successful technology is the 'geared fan' engine," Ngo said. "It promises to be 30 to 40 percent more effective than existing engines" but it has yet to be introduced on the market.

According to the IATA, "today's modern aircraft consume an average 3.5 litres per 100 passenger kilometers. This is similar to a small compact car but with six times the speed."

On the manufacturing front, the use of composite materials and other design changes have produced greater fuel efficiency in the next generation of aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus 350 and 380.

"We're evolving on the right path," said Robert Milton, head of Air Canada.

earlier related report
Airlines warns EU emissions curbs would jeopardise them
Brussels (AFP) June 6 - European airlines warned Wednesday that EU proposals to impose carbon dioxide emissions quotas on carriers from 2011 "will jeopardise" the industry.

While describing the proposal as a "positive and innovative step," European airline associations said that it could cost them over 45 billion euros (60 billion dollars) from 2011 to 2022 to meet the quotas.

Under a proposal from the European Commission in December, airlines would have to meet quotas either by reducing their emissions or buying carbon dioxide credits from other industries.

But six European airline associations said in a joint statement that "the European Commission's proposal in its present form will jeopardise the long-term viability of the European aviation industry."

A study commissioned by the airlines concluded that far less of the cost could be passed on to consumers than assumed, price hikes could discourage air travel, and European carriers would struggle to compete with rivals from elsewhere.

On top of that, airlines would have to spend over 45 billion euros between 2011 and 2022 buying up credits from more fuel-efficient industries to meet their quotas.

As a result, the measures could reduce the profits of European airlines by 40 billion euros over the period, "weakening the financial stability of a number of operators," the airlines said.

EU planes account for about half the industry's carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.

Aircraft carbon dioxide emissions account for only about three percent of the global total but they have increased by 87 percent since 1990, according to the Commission, the EU's executive body.

Their real impact on global warming is amplified two to four times because planes flying at high altitude leave condensation trails which add to the greenhouse gas effect.

Under the Commission's proposal, which still has to be adopted by EU member states and the European Parliament, airlines would be subject to emissions quotas from 2011 on intra-European flights and from 2012 for flights originating outside the bloc.

It would cover both EU and foreign aircraft operators and the quotas would be based on emission levels from last year.

Washington has raised the prospect of launching legal action against the measures if Europe goes ahead with them.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Australia Fears Jet Flight Guilt Could Hit Tourism
Sydney (AFP) April 18, 2007
Australia is concerned that growing guilt over the impact of jet flights on global warming could hit the country's multi-billion-dollar tourism industry, officials said Wednesday.

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