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Green sky thinking

Retailers and consumers are demanding that products are shipped in an environmentally friendly way. Although the airline industry has set itself high targets of efficiency, it must now fight imbalanced regulations and ensure that it uses a common methodology for calculating emissions – an approach that will benefit the carriers with the most fuel-efficient aircraft. Martin Roebuck reports

In April, the European Parliament decided to limit the scope of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to flights operated within the European Economic Area until the end of 2016, despite opposition from its Environment Committee.


This gives ICAO two years to create a globally acceptable market-based mechanism (MBM) that members can sign up to at its next assembly, planned for 2016. This MBM would then be ready to enter into force four years later.


Emissions from international aviation were included in the ETS at the beginning of 2012, but the EU ‘stopped the clock’ in April 2013, suspending the scheme for flights to and from Europe following the threat of retaliatory economic sanctions from Asian and other governments.


The EU will now await the outcome of the next ICAO assembly before deciding whether to reinstate interim measures. However IATA feels these on/off tactics fail to take into account a series of significant commitments the industry has already made.


Back in 2009, the aviation industry agreed to improve fuel efficiency by 1.5% per year through to 2020, cap its net emissions through carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onwards, and then cut net emissions in half by 2050 (compared with 2005 levels). “No other industry has agreed to such ambitious global goals,” says an IATA spokesperson.


While the European Parliament “averted an international conflict” by limiting emissions trading to intra-European flights for the time being, the ETS still distorts international competition, argues Peter Schneckenleitner, head of political communication for Lufthansa Group.


“We have to pay for emissions trading on all our European feeder flights to our hubs in Frankfurt, Munich and Vienna, while competitors with their home base in Istanbul, Doha, Abu Dhabi or Dubai can fly from Europe without any additional costs. A globally valid emissions reduction regime is long overdue.”


Last year, Lufthansa Group’s passenger airlines cut their average fuel consumption – measured per passenger per 100km – by 3.8%, despite an increase in flight activity of 2.3%. Total CO2 emissions fell by almost 360,000 tonnes.


Improving fuel efficiency “is one reason why we are investing billions every year in next-generation aircraft,” says group chief executive officer Christoph Franz. A special department set up in 2013 is currently examining almost 1,000 individual steps to achieve further savings, including weight reductions on board, new flight methods and the development of more intelligent software tools.


From the cargo perspective, Doug Brittin, secretary general of TIACA, says: “We support the industry’s commitment to reach carbon neutral growth by 2020. Notwithstanding the fact that aviation only accounts for about 2% of global emissions, it’s a problem the air cargo industry takes very seriously.


“We believe the issue needs to be addressed globally and therefore oppose regional schemes such as the ETS. We have consistently opposed its application to aviation and support the ongoing process of developing an ICAO-based global approach. We’ve been addressing this both unilaterally and collectively, with our partners in GACAG.”


Brittin says efforts to modernise air traffic management systems – NextGen in the US and Europe’s Single European Sky project – will bring considerable efficiency gains. >>

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