Airlines must take a more positive approach to the environmental debate, says European Commission official
Sun 28 Sept 2008 – Peter Bombay, a senior official from the European Commission’s Air Transport Unit, said airlines were being seen as in denial over their environmental responsibilities. He called on the European aviation sector to make the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) a success and work closer with the Commission on helping to curb the sector’s emissions. Airlines were urged to lobby their governments over the Single European Sky project as a number Member States, he said, were resisting moves towards an integrated European ATM system.
Bombay, speaking at the environmental session of the World Low Cost Airlines Congress 2008 in London, said that although the aviation industry worldwide was currently responsible for just 2% of total CO2 emissions, rising to around 3% by 2020, the sector was perceived by the public and policy makers in a negative light and this was causing it harm. “Please tell the people who you pay a lot of money to lobby on your behalf to act a little more positively,” he asked his airline audience. “Please also try to take a more proactive, realistic and more focused approach to this debate. Assume your responsibilities and stop being seen, or even being perceived, as in denial.
“The sector is not the new tobacco industry – tobacco is inherently bad, air travel is inherently good. Underline your environmental track record. The sector has been doing good things. Over the past 40 years you have improved fuel efficiency by 70% and that is a major achievement. But do not use this track record – and IATA is very good at this – to conclude that in the future technology and operational measures will solve everything. They won’t.”
He encouraged delegates from the low-cost airlines to take a positive approach to the EU ETS. “See it first and foremost as a challenge and an opportunity since the ETS will favour those airlines with modern, fuel-efficient fleets. You are the ones with those fleets. As it is designed, the ETS will give a competitive advantage to those airlines with high load factors, which again are the low-cost carriers.”
He called on the airlines to be vociferous on the ongoing legislative debate concerning the Single European Sky, including the SESAR project. “Of course, the package proposed by the European Commission is not perfect. Of course, more could have been done, and quicker. In fact, in a perfect world it would have already taken place. But the fight is not between you airlines and the Commission, it is between the Commission and a number of Member States who are resisting the denationalisation of the European ATM system. And we could do with your support over the crucial coming months in that debate. Don’t tell us what should have been proposed; help us instead to ensure the consultative process between the Parliament and the Council is as useful as possible.”
He called the final package agreed in July by the Parliament and the Council for the inclusion of aviation into the EU ETS “an honourable compromise”. But he said airlines should be aware of the legislative debate taking place over the current review of the whole ETS system. He said there were “political forces” who felt the measures that had been agreed for aviation, for example the reference period and the level of capping and allowances, were not stringent enough.
“Some people will try to use this debate to introduce through the back door a number of things we [the Commission] had successfully managed to prevent,” he warned.
“Also, be vociferous about those taxes and charges that are said to relate to the environment. Once the ETS is in place, we [the Commission] will start questioning the appropriateness of taxes which essentially cover the same CO2 emissions as the ETS.”
He concluded by saying airlines and their lobbyists should work with the Commission and policy makers on this and other environmental issues, providing good arguments “rather than just saying the Commission ‘sucks’”.
Bombay, however, did not receive much support from Europe’s biggest low-cost carrier, Ryanair. The airline’s Director of Legal and Regulatory Affairs, Jim Callaghan, pushed the Commission to “do the environment a favour” by stopping state aid to airlines like Alitalia and Olympic Airways. “If the Commission was serious about doing something for the environment, it would start actually enforcing the state aid rules and let these inefficient, polluting airlines go out of business,” he said. “Transferring these passengers to efficient airlines like Ryanair would roughly halve existing airline emissions.”
Callaghan also called on the Commission to take urgent action to address Europe’s “chronically inefficient” air traffic control system, which, he said, accounted for 12% of aviation emissions. He described the EU Emissions Trading Scheme as a tax, “and taxes have no impact on emissions”.
Also on the platform was Andrew Pozniak, Managing Director of a newly-formed think-tank and consultancy, Green Aviation International. He said low-cost carriers should adopt immediate practical solutions to tackle climate change and urged the industry to work together with a greater sense of purpose to a common set of effective goals, which are currently lacking, he maintained.
Despite the current economic problems, he told delegates, aviation emissions have doubled since 1990 and are forecast to double again by 2025. “That is seen by the public as being a bad neighbour, and worse,” he said. “As a consequence, some people choose not to fly with certain airlines, or not to fly at all, which impacts on their revenues as well as attracting the attention of legislators who impose swingeing punitive taxes that increase the cost of flying and undermine the low-cost business model.”
He urged carriers to start planning now for the EU ETS and to help make it a success as it was a well-designed financial process that penalized polluters but rewarded the clean operators. “Already it succeeds for 40% of Europe’s dirty polluters and now it is time for aviation to join,” he said. “But as it stands now, the industry has no real plans, no real deliverables, no real milestones and no real schedule. No wonder no-one is listening to it anymore. We need to change that, move forward and get serious about fixing the environment.”
Niels-Eirik Nertun, Director, Environment and Sustainability for SAS Group, also warned those airlines affected by the EU ETS to start planning now. He warned them that the debate over aviation emissions was about to move from just about CO2 and on to other greenhouse gas emissions and the effects from emissions at high altitudes, so-called radiative forcing. There was considerable difference of opinion over the issue, he said, but asked the airline industry to be engaged in the debate from the beginning and not let it be driven by the NGOs.
He believed it was important for the industry to have a dialogue with the public, media and the NGOs that was “based on facts”. In the case of his own airline, said Nertun, the platform for such a dialogue was the annual environment and sustainability report that SAS had published for the past ten years.
He said technology was a key factor in bringing down emissions and urged his fellow airlines to push the airplane manufacturers to speed up the introduction of the next generation of narrowbody aircraft, which he believed was being pushed further and further back. He said continuous investment in new technology was the best thing airlines could do for the environment. Nertun concluded by saying he was optimistic biofuels would present a realistic and cost-efficient drop-in solution within the near future.