Monday, April 14, 2008
NATA Outlines Its Environmental Issues
NATA’s new environmental committee is now looking into initiatives to improve the environmental impact of general aviation aircraft, including the development of best practices. Using industry-submitted, best-practice programs, NATA will develop a “green” standard as part of its Safety First Program, which will include training programs as well as carbon offset/credit programs for aircraft and ground support equipment. However, such programs are raising concerns since it is unclear as to how effective they are and how the money collected is actually used. NATA’s program expects to set up the program infrastructure as well as investment opportunities. The environmental committee is also working on policy recommendations.
General aviation contributes more than $150 billion to the U.S. economy annually and employs more than 1,265,000 people, according to the General Aviation Manufacturing Association’s 2007 Statistical Databook and Industry Outlook. It involves over 320,000 general aviation aircraft worldwide, ranging from two-seat training aircraft to intercontinental business jets ― 221,000 of those airplanes are based in the U.S.
NATA pointed out that, while the facts may paint a good picture for aviation and the environment, they have little to do with public perception. “We in aviation have an uphill battle, but it’s one that is vitally important for us to fight,” said the organization. “Other industries have successfully deferred public criticism. Take the automotive industry for example. Unleaded gasoline is produced at a rate more than twice that of aviation fuels and you would think the automotive industry would get more negative attention when it comes to global warming. Yes, we hear about gas guzzling SUVs and the sales of these large vehicles have slipped significantly over the last several years. Yet the automotive industry has produced numerous, small fuel efficient and alternative-fueled vehicles that help defer the attention away from their lower mileage models. Aviation must take advantage of opportunities to show the public that our efforts are making a positive difference in the environment, or at least that we are making a real effort to try to make a difference.”
The organization pointed to several examples of how aviation has reduced its environmental impact including carbon offset programs. However, the actual impact of these programs remains unproven and are largely viewed as more window dressing than effective owing to the lack of standardization and auditing procedures. In addition, experts have testified that planting forests, for example, may need 100 years before tangible environmental contributions are seen.
Even so, NATA pointed to the Chicago Climate Exchange, which buys and sells carbon credits. It also pointed to a California company – Carbon Neutral Plane – which offers a service to help set carbon offset programs for corporations and other aircraft owners. However, industry points out any costs forced out of operators to pay for emissions will dilute industry ability to re-equip with more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly aircraft.
The aviation industry has made great strides in engine efficiency over the last several years. Today’s jet engines burn much less fuel than they did 20 or 30 years ago, offsetting at least some of the increase in passengers and the increase in number of aircraft. This is, perhaps, the industry’s greatest contribution to the environment and is a record that largely goes unnoticed in both the policies being proposed such as that from the European Union requiring emissions taxes on aviation operations. It is also largely unnoticed by the public, which continues to accept gas mileage at levels below what some cars offered two decades ago. In addition, the current hype about hybrid cars does not take into account the increases in operating costs, including the necessity to replace a multi-thousand-dollar battery every three years or so.
Aircraft design also has improved fuel efficiency, said NATA pointing to winglets which save as much as 3-5 percent of fuel consumption.
Finally, NATA noted the emerging bio-fuel advances including recent tests by Virgin Fuels, Boeing, and GE Aviation which successfully tested one of Virgin’s 747s on a flight from London to Amsterdam in February.
In addition, it pointed to a recent $5 million grant award to the University of North Dakota to develop a cold weather-suitable biofuel for the military as well as efforts at the University of South Dakota that has developed an ethanol-based fuel to replace Avgas. The project has been on-going since 1996, and they have tested the fuel in several aircraft including a Cessna 180, a Mooney 201, and a Piper Seneca. Embraer, on the other hand, has had a 100 percent bio-fuel aircraft in its Ipanema crop duster for decades. The problem with such bio-fuels is they have already increased the cost of the plant-based commodities and thus means higher prices and competition between use for food and fuel but Embraer has cited several plants that could contribute to the solution that do not compete with food or land for crops.Embraer's analysis will be in the next issue of VLJ Report.
Myths and Realities
In a brief to members, NATA recounted recent press aviation/environmental press clips charging carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft are contributing to global warming. Despite studies to the contrary and moves by the industry to substantially decrease emissions with more efficient engines, the European Union has reported that greenhouse gas emissions from aviation have increased by 87 percent between 1990 and 2006, said NATA, and is considering taxation of air travel in order to bring some control over emissions.
Environmentalist are concerned about the growth of aviation on the environment, citing an FAA forecast that green house gases (GHGs) from domestic aircraft are expected to grow by 60 percent by 2025. As a result, environmentalists submitted a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit growth. However, aviation contributes little to GHGs, at approximately three percent worldwide, compared to other transport modes and power plants.
NATA pointed to theories that high-altitude impacts to the environment – including CO2, and NOx at an altitude of 20,000 – 40,000 feet have a more significant impact towards global warming because contrails, for instance contribute to cirrus cloud formation and impact global warming. However, little is actually known about high altitude impacts from emissions which have been targeted for study by aviation and government interests for that reason. A study during the worldwide aviation standdown after 9/11 purported to show the impact of aviation on the environment but experts indicate the fact there were no clouds may have skewed the results.
“Theories about high altitude CO2 and NOX effects are just that, theories,” said NATA. “We have seen no scientific proof that this is significant.”
Of particular interest is how aviation’s influence on emissions is overblown at nearly every level. For instance, the organization reported that data from the Department of Energy show that the supply for aviation gasoline and jet fuel accounts for 1,642,000 barrels per day while the total amount of petroleum products is produced at a rate of 20,588,000 barrels per day meaning aviation only accounts for about 12 percent of total petroleum products. NATA reported that Friends of the Earth filed a petition with the EPA, asking the agency to study the potential environmental and health risks associated with lead emissions from general aviation aircraft. The fuel grade in question is 100 octane low lead aviation gasoline (100LL), said NATA, indicating that that is the primary fuel source of its membership and others in the general aviation community. Lead has been banned for auto fuel for decades and the group wants EPA to issue regulations limiting the amount of aircraft lead emissions. Comments closed last month on EPA’s request for more information.
NATA also recounted current environmental initiatives that impact general aviation operations:
After working with both Congress and the EPA to address pending EPA regulations for refueling vehicles not in service which would have imposed new high costs on the industry, NATA reported that 2009 is the compliance date for the development and implementation of required Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) programs outlined in a final rule published by the EPA in 2006.
The organization noted that the plans must be certified by a professional engineer, unless the facility stores less than 10,000 gallons of fuel and has not had a recorded spill in the facility’s recent history. As the deadline approaches, NATA said it will continue to work with the EPA to ensure that the SPCC rules are enforced uniformly across the country and that local EPA inspectors work with fixed base operators to ensure a seamless integration of these plans into the airport’s operating plans.
Local Airport Issues
Environmentalists have added emissions to their complaints against airports and airport development that have heretofore largely focused on noise. The are not seeking to restrict general aviation airport activity, according to NATA, which cited Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) and legislation in both 2006 and 2007 in the California Legislature to require a year-long study of all emissions from aircraft using the airport, despite several previous environmental studies that have found no significant impact on the environment from those aircraft. The required study would essentially place an unfunded mandate on the local government and constitutes a thinly-veiled attempt to curb general aviation traffic at the airport, said NATA.
The organization also reported that de-icing fluid use is beginning to draw the attention of the EPA as well as local and state environmental agencies. NATA reported that at least one state is currently in the rulemaking process to require cleanups of de-icing spills over a certain amount. However, such state-by-state rules are likely to face challenges that only the federal government has the authority to regulate aviation.