Boeing threw its weight behind Airbus in a dispute over European Union airline emissions on Thursday (22 March), announcing at the same time an agreement to develop and commercialise sustainable biofuels for use in airplanes.
The chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes joined a chorus of criticism of the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme that will charge airlines for emissions, something Brussels believes necessary to help defeat climate change.
"This is not about Boeing and Airbus; it is about what is best for our customers and how we are going to get the whole industry to reduce its environmental footprint," Jim Albaugh told Reuters.
"I don't think the European ETS approach is the right one. We need to have a standstill on this and work with [UN aviation agency] ICAO and get some international rules in place that everyone can sign up to, and ones that will drive us to make the investments we need to improve the efficiency of airplanes."
Albaugh spoke after the aviation industry, meeting in Geneva, urged governments to use the UN body to negotiate a global deal on the controversial issue of aircraft emissions.
Nations such as China, India and the United States are unhappy that the EU went ahead with a scheme that applies to their airspace, while the EU says it was forced to act after years of international inaction on air travel pollution.
Airbus and other companies last week appealed to European leaders to delay the scheme, which it says has disrupted Chinese government approval of dozens of valuable aircraft orders.
Making a rare joint appearance with Albaugh, his chief rival, Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders, earlier told the Geneva conference he was "not amused" about the delays and urged the European Commission to freeze the scheme pending a wider deal.
"Give ICAO time to come up with a global regime. Stop it now, don't go down the road of a trade war," Enders said.
The senior European official in charge of the scheme has said the EU will stand by its law unless the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization can come up with a global plan.
Asked about reported comments by a Chinese official denying that Beijing had intervened to halt aircraft orders, Enders said, "there are more subtle ways to do it and as we all know aircraft purchases need Chinese government approval".
Teaming up on biofuels
Airbus and Boeing compete for jet orders worth almost $100 billion a year but cooperate on some issues and signed a deal together with Brazil's Embraer to develop biofuel – an issue on which Enders said the EU Commission had performed well.
"There are times to compete and there are times to cooperate," said Albaugh. "Two of the biggest threats to our industry are the price of oil and the impact of commercial air travel on our environment. By working with Airbus and Embraer on sustainable biofuels, we can accelerate their availability and reduce our industry's impacts on the planet we share."
All three companies are members of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group which brings together 23 leading airlines on accelerating the development and commercialisation of sustainable biofuels in airplanes. Members of the group are responsible for approximately 25% of annual aviation fuel use.
Airlines see biofuels as a crucial part of their commitment to achieving "carbon-neutral growth" by 2020. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has set a target of ramping up biofuels use to 10% of all consumption by 2017, saying that they have the potential to reduce the industry's carbon footprint by up to 80%.
Albaugh said aviation had curbed emissions by 70% over 40 years and questioned its treatment compared to industries like construction and cement.
"They get a bunch of carbon credits ... They can reduce their emissions and then sell their credits, and so they are almost getting rewarded for the fact they haven't done much."