Monthly Archives: August 2011

On National Aviation Day, time for airlines to start flying greener

It’s America’s National Aviation Day, an annual celebration of aviation that falls on airplane pioneer Orville Wright’s birthday.

Today would have been aviation pioneer Orville Wright's (right) 140th birthday. Now emissions from aviation are expected to quadruple by 2050 if left unregulated, but some U.S. airlines are trying to get out of a European anti-pollution law. (photo: NASA)

Today would have been Wright's 140th birthday, and a lot has happened in the world and within the aviation sector since the Wright Brothers took flight nearly a century ago.

With climate change an ever-increasing threat, and the need to reduce emissions ever more important, EDF has been engaged in aviation issues for more than a decade.

Left unregulated, airline emissions are expected to quadruple by 2050.

So it’s particularly unfortunate that three U.S. airlines — United/Continental and American — and their trade association, Air Transport Association of America (ATA), have challenged the legality of the world’s only policy to reduce emissions from aviation, Europe’s “Aviation Directive.”

EDF, in partnership with U.S. and European environmental organizations, has intervened in support of the EU law that a recent New York Times editorial called “a much needed first step to controlling a growing source of dangerous emissions.”  The case is pending in Europe's highest court.

But, even as the airlines are suing to get out of the anti-pollution law, they’re simultaneously lauding their environmental performances.  (Read more at American, United, Continental Airlines "Greenwashing", say environmental groups.)

EDF has publicly called on the airlines to fly cleaner, and one very effective means of doing so is by complying with the Aviation Directive, which holds all airlines accountable for their global warming pollution from flights to, from and within Europe.

The Aviation Directive offers airlines flexibility in how exactly they lower their emissions, and one way to do that is blending cleaner-burning advanced biofuels with the planes’ traditional jet fuel.

While cost and production capacity have been inhibiting in biofuels’ taking off widely, the Obama Administration announced on Tuesday an initiative that will provide up to $510 million of public and private capital to produce advanced biofuels.

We were happy to see that the airlines actually welcomed the biofuels initiative.  In fact, the president of the ATA — the very trade association involved in the law suit in Europe against the Aviation Directive — even highlighted the climate benefits of the initiative, saying:

This initiative is crucial to help turn the promise of advanced aviation biofuels into reality, enhancing America’s energy security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs.

We think the Administration's advanced biofuels initiative has the potential both to promote low-carbon options for ships and planes and to help rural economies.  However, it would have an even greater impact if the Administration also supported the Aviation Directive.  (Up to now, the Obama Administration has objected to the application of the law on U.S. airlines.)

In a statement on Tuesday, EDF’s International Climate Program Director Jennifer Haverkamp said:

Emissions from aviation and shipping are both accelerating and poorly regulated, so it’s welcome to see an investment in efforts to reduce them.

How unfortunate, then, that the Administration is supporting an initiative to stimulate development of advanced biofuels, while at the same time opposing a law in Europe that would reward U.S. airlines for using them.  Clearly the Administration could multiply the positive effects of this initiative on rural jobs and green growth by also supporting the EU’s Aviation Directive.

So today, on National Aviation Day 2011, EDF encourages all airline operators to take steps to reduce their emissions and fly cleaner, and urges airlines and passengers flying to Europe to embrace the opportunity that the Aviation Directive provides to move to a lower-carbon aviation sector.

Hopefully on National Aviation Day 2012, we’ll be celebrating participation of U.S. airlines in the pioneering anti-pollution EU law.

Note: Today’s also quite fitting to announce the international climate program’s newest webpage, edf.org/aviation.  There, you’ll find a log of all our aviation background materials, fact sheets, press releases, letters to policy makers, blogs, and more, dating all the way back to our 1999 report “Tracking The Skies: An Airline-based system for limiting greenhouse gas emissions from international civil aviation.”

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NY Times editorial on aviation spot on: European plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions makes sense

The New York Times has a terrific editorial today about the European Union’s law to regulate carbon emissions from airplanes that use European airports.

Closely in line with what EDF and our partners have been saying about the world's first program that holds airlines accountable for reducing their global warming pollution, the Times says the EU Aviation Directive “makes sense.”  And absent a global deal to limit greenhouse gases — which the Times says world leaders should have reached long ago –

the European Union’s plan to regulate the carbon emissions of all airplanes that land or take off from European airports is a reasonable attempt to address an urgent problem.

The Times also says that given the glacial speed at which international aviation negotiations are moving, the Obama administration’s arguments that a global solution is better than Europe’s plan “are not very strong.”  With aviation emissions rising sharply as air traffic increases, the Times says:

A global deal would be great. But international talks to regulate airlines’ emissions have been going on fruitlessly for almost 15 years. The European Union’s plan is a much needed first step to controlling a growing source of dangerous emissions. It may even encourage nations to work toward something broader.

Three U.S. airlines — United/Continental and American — and their trade association, Air Transport Association of America (ATA), have challenged the legality of the EU law in Europe's highest court.  EDF, in partnership with U.S. and European environmental organizations, has intervened in support of the EU law.  Oral argument was held July 5, 2011, and a decision may be handed down within the next few months.

Read The New York Times editorial Airlines and Carbon: The European plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions makes sense and learn more about EDF’s work on aviation at edf.org/aviation.

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