Air Transport World

Coming to America: is Europe's contentious debate over aviation's environmental impact crossing the Atlantic?(ECO-AVIATION)(Cover story)

IT WAS TYPICAL OF THE UNSEEMLY WAR OF WORDS that has characterized Europe's debate over aviation's environmental impact. UK Science Minister Ian Pearson last year charged that "when it comes to climate change, Ryanair are not just the unacceptable face of capitalism, they are the irresponsible face of capitalism." CEO Michael O'Leary, never one to be shy, immediately fired back that Pearson was a "silly" man in league with "eco-lunatics," adding: "he hasn't a clue what he's talking about and is attacking the wrong target in the airlines," pointing out that other industries produce a far greater percentage of CO2 emissions.

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Across the Atlantic, the US air transport industry for years has been following the high-decibel debate closely. America's airlines and aviation officials have noted that no matter how many times CEOs such as O'Leary insist that aviation accounts for only 2%-3% of total CO2 emissions, European airlines still wind up on the wrong end of public relations and regulatory battles. During a recent trip to Europe, FAA Assistant Administrator-Aviation Policy, Planning and Environment Dan Elwell was asked by an EU official, "Don't Americans feel guilty when they purchase an airline ticket?" Not yet, he assured the questioner. But keeping it that way may not be easy.

"We are concerned that the rhetoric about aviation that's prolific in Europe may spread here," Elwell tells ATW. "In Europe, perception has become reality ... There is a general perception in Europe that aviation is irresponsible. There is a general perception in Europe that aviation is the next tobacco."

Green Politics Environmental politics is starting to move into center stage in the US (all three major Presidential candidates, including Republican John McCain, are brandishing their "green" credentials) and, with a cap-and-trade proposal working its way through the Senate and a strong push to get the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate aircraft CO2 emissions, the nation's aviation officials and airlines are eager to get out in front of the debate in a way that their European counterparts failed to do.

Air Transport Assn. VP-Environmental Affairs Nancy Young says there is a "disbelief on the airline industry's part that it would get to this" in Europe. …

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