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  • Breakthrough on efforts to reduce emissions from aircraft

    Icao proposes ‘metric’ but NGOs still worried whether work will have a real impactEfforts to tackle emissions from aviation have taken a hesitant step forward, with the news that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) has endorsed an expert group’s recommendation on the way to measure fuel burn in flight. The recommendation is for a ‘metric’ system and test cycle to be the basis for setting fuel efficiency standards for new aircraft, but many concerns remain.

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    In 2009, Icao began work on a standard for new aircraft, and after three years’ work its group of experts has now produced a ‘metric’ or methodology for measuring in-flight fuel burn and thus carbon dioxide emissions. This will form the basis for a minimum standard of fuel efficiency that all new aircraft will have to meet. The standard will address only CO2 emissions.

    The environmental groups working with Icao, of which T&E is one, reluctantly endorsed the ‘metric’ as formulated, and are now directing their efforts towards ensuring the final outcome is a minimum standard set at a stringent enough level that leads to gains beyond business-as-usual. They say Icao has a record of setting standards that follow technological development rather than force it as is often the case in other sectors.

    The Icao proposal for the CO2 metric are not yet public, and all parties to the process are expected to keep it confidential, hence it is impossible to fully assess it here.

    But there has been criticism of the proposed ‘metric’ from outside the Icao process. The aeronautical analyst Dimitri Simos has written an open letter warning that the form of Icao’s metric is ‘fundamentally flawed, unfit for purpose, and carries great risks for both the environment and the industry if not challenged prior to formal adoption’. Simos adds: ‘Gross technical blunders are about to be incorporated into key global policies.’ He criticises in particular the suggestion that fuel consumption will only be measured in the cruise phase, not during landing or take-off, and the fact that the proposals do not reward lighter aircraft.

    T&E aviation manager Bill Hemmings said: ‘This has been a tortuous process and the outcome is far from perfect, but it is definitely a much better outcome than would have happened without us, and the challenges in calculating and setting stringency will be crucial. The work goes to the heart of the way manufacturers design aircraft and of how airlines influence airplane design to maximise commercial advantage, so it’s crucial that the environmental voice in the negotiations is strong. At almost every turn there is a risk that the short-term commercial interests of the airlines and plane makers will win out over the importance of reducing greenhouse gases.

    ‘If anything meaningful is to come out of this process, the minimum fuel-efficiency standard must be set at a sufficiently high level of stringency to ensure that the aircraft of the future are more fuel efficient than if there had been no standard. The challenge here is for Icao to show it is relevant and to agree a standard that pushes industry beyond business as usual. Icao has now agreed that for CO2 the standard must go beyond ensuring best available technology – but what that actually means in practice for designing new aircraft is yet to be determined.’

    Click here to read Simos’s letter.

    • Switzerland is to get all airlines using Swiss airports to record tonne-kilometre data from next January. The move is in preparation for linking the Swiss emissions trading scheme with the EU ETS, even though negotiations between Bern and Brussels still haven’t reached final agreement.