US airline industry lobby, A4A, hoping it will not need to make further CO2 savings – more NextGen instead
The trade lobbying group, Airlines for America (A4A), argues that the airline industry has already done its part to reduce CO2 emissions. It says it is now up to the US government to get improvements to the air traffic control system that could reduce airline fuel consumption, by cutting extra miles flown. Recently the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) released an “endangerment finding” that that greenhouse gases from aircraft pose a risk to human health. So A4A is pushing back, and saying that US airlines have “more than doubled fuel efficiency since 1978 [planes were very fuel inefficient then].” Leaving out the constantly rising numbers of flights and passengers, they hope to persuade government that there is no need to have any further regulations on their carbon emissions, or emissions standards for aircraft. While the industry hopes for 1.5% efficiency gains per year, this would be negated by its hopes of growing by 4% per year. There is the issue of whether the US and the EU might have different emissions standards, and how that affects trans-Atlantic flights. Airlines are thriving, the fuel price has fallen, and they are making profits. But the industry wants more flight path changes, to cut costs, through NextGen, which have proved so unpopular in subjecting communities to worse noise.
US airline industry, government at odds over emissions standards
By Danny King (Travel Weekly)
June 24, 2015
As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moves to catch up with overseas regulators by enacting emissions standards for the aviation industry, the largest U.S. airline trade group is pushing back.
The trade group, Airlines for America (A4A), argues that the industry has already done its part to reduce emissions and that it now is up to the government to address improvements to the air traffic control system that could further reduce airline fuel consumption.
Just weeks after the EPA reported that its early findings confirmed that aircraft carbon dioxide emissions contribute to global warming, A4A was gearing up for a lobbying effort that will highlight both the industry’s fuel-efficiency gains and the need for the federal government to update aircraft-control systems. A4A is pointing to data suggesting that U.S. carriers have more than doubled fuel efficiency since 1978 and that airlines account for 5% of the U.S. economy, but just 2% of the country’s emissions.
“The U.S. airlines carried 20% more passengers and cargo in 2014 than they did in 2000, while emitting 8% less carbon dioxide,” A4A spokesman Vaughn Jennings said. “Coupled with the long-term fuel efficiency improvements the U.S. airlines have accomplished [dating] back to the late 1970s, there is a real question as to whether any [greenhouse-gas] emissions regulation is needed.”
As it is, the EPA appears to be following up efforts by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which has been trying to address the issue of aircraft emissions for at least five years and is pushing for the global aircraft industry to boost fuel-efficiency by 1.5% a year through 2020. ICAO is working with the industry to develop aircraft emissions standards, which could be disclosed as soon as early next year.
One burning question for airlines is whether the EPA’s move toward emissions standards would end up creating a system in which different emissions mandates would apply to aircraft flying in Europe and those flying in North America. Similar conflicting standards already exist in the global automobile industry. And it’s not clear which standard would then apply for aircraft used for transatlantic flights.
In a June 10 statement, the EPA said it was pursuing policies “that are equitable across national boundaries,” but it did not explain what that meant or offer further detail. Meanwhile, Jennings said it was “critical” that international emissions standards be common.
Bob Offutt, senior technology analyst at Phocuswright, said that while it was unclear which standards would apply on transatlantic flights, he expected them to be similar, with the greatest potential for differences arising with when the emissions standards would be phased in.
Regardless, Offutt said the EPA’s timing is no accident. The concept of aircraft pollution and its potential impact on global weather patterns have been discussed in scientific journals since at least 9/11, when, in the days following those terrorist attacks, flights were grounded, offering a chance to test theories on the impact of aircraft emissions.
Even so, in the ensuing years as the aviation industry was riddled by lackluster customer demand and higher fuel costs, the EPA appears to have taken a hands-off approach to the issue of aircraft emissions and their potential impact on global warming.
What has changed in recent years is that fuel prices will have fallen 20% between 2013 and 2015, while worldwide passenger departures will increase 6.8% this year, to 3.53 billion, and air transport will boost passenger revenue by 4.3% this year, to $823 billion, according to IATA.
As a result, many U.S. airlines are reporting record profits. United reported net income of $1.13 billion last year, compared with a $723 million net loss in 2012, while American Airlines earned net income of $2.88 billion in 2014, compared with a $1.88 billion loss two years prior.
“The airlines had complained that they were struggling. This is old news, of course,” Offutt said. “The EPA may have been holding off for a while so that [the airlines] could be profitable. Now, the EPA is saying, ‘your turn.'”
Indeed, the EPA noted in its June 10 statement about addressing aircraft greenhouse-gas emissions that U.S. aircraft account for 29% of global aircraft emissions as well as about 11% of emissions from the domestic transportation sector.
“In 2009, EPA determined that GHG [grenhouse-gas] pollution from cars and light trucks threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects. The body of science on human-induced climate change has strengthened, supporting today’s proposed finding … that GHGs emitted from aircraft engines contribute to pollution that causes climate change endangering public health and welfare.”
While the airlines have not denied those assertions, A4A has already made it clear that the industry feels that a large part of solution to the emissions problem lies with the country’s outdated air traffic control system, which damages the industry’s efficiency. A replacement Gen-3 system has long been a political football in Congress. The airlines and A4A will likely use the EPA data in their push for the government to transition from an outdated radar-based infrastructure to a satellite-based GPS.
“While the A4A airlines are doing all that they can to promote efficiencies within the current air traffic management system, the limitations of that system account for over 10% of unnecessary fuel burn and resulting emissions,” Jennings said.
After EPA “endangerment finding” USA starting to take CO2 emissions from aviation seriously
The Obama administration has now released a scientific finding from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that greenhouse gases from aircraft pose a risk to human health. This is called an “endangerment finding” and it paves the way for regulating CO2 emissions from the US aviation industry. It would allow the US to implement a global CO2 emissions standard for new aircraft, that is being developed by ICAO. However, the ICAO CO2 standard will only start in late 2016 and only apply to new plane designs certified from 2020, leaving most of the world’s existing fleets unaffected for years to come. But James Lees, from AEF, writing in a blog, says this EPA move could mark a turning point in efforts to regulate CO2 emissions from aviation globally. While most sectors are expected to cut their emissions, the CO2 from aviation is expected to triple by 2050. Today’s airline fleet is more carbon efficient than it was in the early 1970s but efficiency improvements slowed down dramatically since 2000 – while passenger demand grows at 5.5% per year. It is hoped the UK, the EU and the US can now push for an effective global standard.