EU launches plan to lower aircraft emissions

Paris, France – The European Union has launched a €1.6 billion public-private research partnership to help the air-transport industry develop environmentally friendly technology for planes, while still considering including the sector in its carbon trading scheme.

The ‘Clean Sky’ Joint-Technology Initiative was launched by EU Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik at the Paris Air Show last week. The seven year research program aims to cut aircraft noise by half and emissions of CO2 and NOx by 40% and 60% respectively by 2015.

Aircraft are responsible for around three percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. But emissions of nitrous oxides (NOx) and the formation of condensation trails (contrails) from water vapour at near stratospheric levels where commercial jets fly mean the actual impact on global warming is much higher – possibly as much as ten percent.

Air travel is also on the rise, with GHG emissions from international air travel jumping by almost 70% between 1990 and 2002.

The Clean Sky program is one of a planned six joint-technology initiatives created by the European Commission under its 7th Research Framework Programme, to avoid fragmentation of research efforts and boost large-scale and long-term investment in strategic research fields.

The initiative will be equally financed by the 7th Research Framework Programme and industry funds, and will focus on six specific projects, including the design of greener engines, adapting wing technologies to make new aircraft more energy efficient, and developing lighter materials. The EU hopes that this will help European aircraft manufacturers compete in the race to build the world’s cleanest planes.

Passenger jet aircraft produced today are already around 70% more fuel efficient than the equivalent aircraft produced 10 years ago, and continued improvement is expected. Continued dependence on fossil fuels (kerosene) is expected to continue, but this should drive continuous improvements in aerodynamics, weight reduction, and engine design. Some firms are also seeking to address key barriers to the use of biofuels and other alternative fuels, such as hydrogen.

The EU has targeted the sector’s rising emissions for action, and is still formulating a plan to include air travel in its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Airline operators may be forced to buy emissions credits through auction, or may be issued a pre-determined allowance, after which credits may be bought and sold.

The EU hopes to serve as a model for other countries, and projects that by 2020, the cost of a typical return flight within the region could rise by $3-$9 Cdn. However, the airline industry has protested that the proposed limits are set too low, and argues the costs of the system would be devastating to the sector.

Overall, the sector is willing to participate in trading, but is asking for some concessions, say industry representatives. One is the development of a ‘Single Sky’ for Europe, which would merge air traffic control systems across the continent and could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 12%. The Commission has supported the concept, but there is political opposition as it would require countries to relinquish sovereignty over their airspace. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), there is a 12% inefficiency in global air traffic management which could largely be addressed by the European Single Sky and two other ‘mega-projects’: an efficient air traffic system for the Pearl River Delta in China and a next generation air traffic system in the United States.

For more on the ‘Clean Sky’ initiative, see Euractiv.

For More Information: EurActiv

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