Monday, February 11, 2008
Eco Watch – Airlines Fight Fuel Bill, FAA Efforts, ERA and CDA’s, Aircraft Scrapping
As if airlines didn’t have enough incentive to reduce fuel consumption – every penny adds about $30 million to fuel costs annually for American, for instance – airlines are now fighting a bill proposed by U.S. Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va., which targets emissions reductions of transportation fuel, which could go into effect in 2012 if passed. At a time when record fuel prices are depressing the industry recovery, industry analysts said the bill would increase fuel costs more and put inflationary pressures on ticket prices. Interestingly, the measure comes at a time when FAA is creating its own strategy in order to combat unilateral European efforts that would similarly increase airline costs and preclude fleet replacement. (See related story below.) It also comes as Congress has failed to address reauthorization which would have a huge impact on reducing emissions.
The Regional Airline Association (RAA) joined other groups to oppose the decision by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to approve and forward to the full Senate S.2191, the “Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007.” Also opposing the measure are the Air Transport Association (ATA), Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), and the Cargo Airline Association (CAA). In fact, the regional airline industry’s record is actually quite good. Related Story
“The bill, if enacted, would result in unprecedented increases in jet fuel related costs,” said RAA President Roger Cohen. “When coupled with record fuel prices that today are reaching the century mark, airlines likely will be faced with more difficult and painful choices that will result in service reductions, especially to small- and medium-sized communities, and the loss of more aviation-related jobs.”
ATA took the lead in industry opposition. “While the airlines and pilots continue to take their environmental responsibilities very seriously, we have real concerns about the costs and effects of this proposed legislation,” said President and CEO James C. May. “By including jet fuel in a cap-and-trade greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trading scheme, the legislation essentially would serve as an unnecessary and additional tax on fuel. It would greatly increase airline costs and would compromise our ability to invest in new aircraft and other fleet upgrades – the very things we need to continue to improve our emissions profile.”
The groups noted that U.S. airlines have made tremendous improvements in fuel efficiency, which directly relates to GHG efficiency. Regional Aviation News did a baseline report outlining all the issues and proposals faced by the airline industry resulting from initiatives to address global warming. To access this landmark, three-part report, which also outlines regional efforts to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions click here.
“We improved our fuel efficiency – and hence our GHG efficiency – by 103 percent between 1978 and 2006,” said May. “This achievement was a direct result of the airlines’ continual reinvestment in technology and fuel-efficient operations.”
“This legislation piles an even heavier tax burden on an industry that already compares to the burden on [sin taxes] alcohol, tobacco, gambling and firearms,” said ALPA President Capt. John Prater. “It would compromise the proactive measures that our industry has made in fuel efficiencies and further threaten our airlines’ financial recovery while rewarding ‘dirtier’ industries by giving them free allowances and special investment advantages. That sends the wrong signal to our nation’s pilots, the airlines and the traveling public.”
The coalition also voiced its concern over the failure of Congress to enact legislation reauthorizing the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which would have paved the way for a much needed Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) and which contained a number of valuable environmental initiatives.
“Modernization of our outdated air traffic control (ATC) system would enable airlines to fly more direct routes, thus reducing congestion and system-caused delays,” noted CAA President Steve Alterman. “Studies show that this could further reduce our GHG emissions by 10 to 15 percent,” said Alterman. “Congress has thus far failed to reauthorize FAA operations, which regrettably keeps delaying a decision on NextGen and its related environmental programs. This much needed program would bring tangible GHG savings while getting at the heart of the congestion and delay problem.”
The coalition’s concerns have been further heightened by the speed in which this legislation has moved through the Senate subcommittee and committee processes.
“This 303-page bill, which would establish carbon as a commodity and redistribute billions and billions of dollars across the U.S. economy, was introduced less than two months ago,” explained May. “It has been fast tracked through the committee process, without undergoing basic economic analysis, perhaps on the hope that no one will have time to raise the types of concerns we are raising,” said May. “Collectively, we urge the full Senate to give this legislation a more deliberative review and to recognize that it is the wrong approach for commercial aviation.”
Under the bill, fuel suppliers would be required to buy carbon content allowances in the form of U.S. government certificates for their fuel. The bill calls for the government to issue 5.8 billion of certificates in 2012, although the price for such certificates has yet to be set but could be in the range of $10 to $40 and amount to about $2.2 billion in additional airline costs in the first year, alone. Estimates indicate that revenues would amount to $412 billion annually which would go toward mitigating energy costs and for research and development of technologies that would lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), something the airline industry is doing virtually on its own.
FAA Official Outlines Climate Change Study
As part of an effort to combat the "internationally unpopular path" the European Union is pursuing with its proposal to include aviation in its emissions trading scheme, the FAA is studying how the aviation industry can move toward a "carbon neutral future,” unveiling a five-point plan to combat aviation's contribution to climate change, a senior agency official said in Washington.
While, the FAA is only now announcing its plan, much of it relies on work already being done by private industry such as alternative fuels. It also relies heavily on the much-desired acceleration of NextGen, still caught into the Congressional budgetary cycle. In addition, it will look into emissions trading.
The first prong of FAA's plan is to improve the scientific understanding of the effect aviation has on climate change, said Daniel Elwell, FAA assistant administrator for aviation policy, planning and environment. He added that, beyond carbon dioxide, the science is unclear on the effect altitude and other gases and emissions may have on climate change.
Perhaps the most important part of the plan, at least in the short term, is the acceleration of air traffic management reform and increasing the system's efficiency to reduce fuel burn, Elwell said. NextGen is critical to the FAA's plan, although such measures as reduced vertical separation and East Coast airspace reform are steps in the right direction, he said.
Third, FAA must work with scientists and aircraft manufacturers to "hasten the improvement" and development of environmentally friendly aircraft, Elwell said. The fourth measure is to step up research on alternative fuels. Elwell noted that FAA's research into coal-to-liquid technology is yielding results.
Fifth, Elwell said, FAA is considering market-based measures, such as emissions trading, tax incentives and carbon offsets. The U.S. has never been opposed to emissions trading, Elwell said, but it is opposed to a unilateral decision, such as the EU's. However, the industry is opposed, saying such programs divert money away from fleet re-equipment. Instead, the FAA and the U.S. airlines believe ICAO should mediate and administer any future emissions trading system, he added.
Yet, noting the remarkable gains in fuel efficiency the industry has made since 2000, Elwell said that the price of fuel is better at motivating airlines to become more efficient than any government policy. Elwell next month will represent the U.S. at the Group on International Aviation and Climate Change, an ICAO-convened body to study the issue
ERA Endorses CDAs as Environmentally Friendly
European Regions Airline Association (ERA) Board members agreed unanimously recently to endorse the policy of continuous descent approaches at as many airports as possible because of the system’s beneficial effects on both the environment and flight safety.
Continuous Descent Approaches (CDAs) have long been acknowledged by the association to enhance safety benefits when compared with the traditional stepped approach to landing at an airport. Now the association is pushing for greater implementation of CDAs because the procedure also saves fuel, emits less CO2 and reduces noise impact around airports.
CDAs have been shown in trials to effect a 10-30 percent reduction in fuel burn and up to a 30 percent reduction in noise. This equates to a saving of between 50 and 150kgs of fuel and up to 450kgs of CO2 per flight, according to ERA.
, commented: “Regional airports are less restricted than some of the busier major hubs such as London Heathrow or Frankfurt, and are therefore best placed to apply continuous descent approaches,” said ERA Director General Mike Ambrose. “No special equipment is necessarily required, but it does entail enhanced cooperation between airlines, airports and air traffic service providers.”
ERA now plans to work closely with Eurocontrol to promote the implementation of CDAs at regional airports throughout Europe.
Virgin Biofuel Flight
At the end of February, a Virgin 747 will fly Heathrow-Amsterdam using 20 percent biofuel mixed with 80 percent conventional fuel. The test is a joint program with GE Aviation and Boeing. GE said the CF6 to be used on the flight requires no modifications to accommodate biofuel and would not compromise its performance or range. Since 2006, Virgin Group says it has earmarked all of the profits from its airline and rail businesses to financing research and development of alternative fuels. Virgin Chair Sir Richard Branson has joined Al Gore, who recently won the Nobel Prize for his work on global warming, in funding a $25 million prize for technologies that would remove GHGs.
Aircraft Recycling Growing
Costs of raw materials are piquing interest in aircraft bone yards where aircraft can be recycled into furniture, cell phone casings and cans.