Aircraft emissions: EP plans could ‘destroy our competitiveness’


Proposals put forward by Parliament’s environment committee have “the potential to completely kill the competitiveness of the industry”, the Association of European Airlines’ General Manager of Communications Françoise Humbert told EURACTIV in an interview ahead of a key vote in Parliament on including aviation in the EU’s carbon emissions trading scheme. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

How important is next week’s vote in Parliament? Are you happy with the way the debate has been going so far? 

This vote is very important for us because, ever since the Commission’s proposal on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) – a proposal with which we weren’t particularly happy due to the huge costs it would involve for us – there have been various proposals and counter-proposals – and most notably from Parliament’s Environment and Transport committees, and the Envi committee proposal is so extreme that it’s got the potential to completely kill the competitiveness of the industry. 

So now we need to know what kind of proposal we will end up with and that’s what is going to be decided this week. 

What would be the ideal scenario for you? 

Well it’s a combination of elements really – there is a whole variety of things that need to be taken into account – one of which is the baseline, which is the reference period for calculating emissions. 

What we would like to see is a reference period that is closer to the trading period – as does the transport committee – so, for example, 2007-2009. This would give us a more realistic basis and also make it easier for new member states, whose traffic has boomed since their accession to the EU. 

If their permits were calculated on the basis of their emissions before their accession, it would be a disaster for them because they would have to buy so many permits to compensate for their growth. 

But wouldn’t that also amount to decreasing and also further delaying efforts to tackle climate change despite all the warnings for us to act now if we are to make a difference? 

I don’t think so. I think we’ve got to ask ourselves whether we want to reduce emissions or whether we want to reduce air traffic.

Because emissions don’t grow at the same speed as air traffic does – a lot of measures have been taken to ensure that, including operational measures, technical measures, infrastructural measures, and a lot is invested into new technologies, new engines, etc… We are reducing our emissions as we go along. 

And also, there is something else. The European Union talks about the Lisbon strategy, about growth and employment, about putting European competitiveness on the global map… But you can’t do that if you haven’t got mobility, if you don’t accommodate for the growth in mobility. 

Is there too much of a focus on the ETS and not enough on alternative measures to curb emissions? 

Well I think that the Commission is aware of the need for other measures, but it’s true that this doesn’t crop up often enough in the debate. ETS is only one of the things that should be implemented to help contain aviation emissions. 

And, of course, the single sky comes to mind because there we’re talking about a potential saving of 12% CO2 emissions – that’s huge. And it would similarly help with reducing airport congestion. 

The Commission is also due to come up with a plan to internalise external costs of all transport modes. Do you think this scheme can help level out distortions between transport modes? 

Well we certainly want to be treated the same as other sectors and as other transport modes. That’s one of our griefs really. 

You mentioned the ‘huge cost’ of the ETS. Would it really bring as much harm as is claimed to the aviation industry or could it instead be seen positively, as an investment in modern technologies? 

Well – two things – yes and no. Yes, because ETS is, for us, the best of all the market-based instruments. It gives an incentive to invest into new technologies. 

But, if it’s badly designed – for example if it’s got the kind of design that the ENVI committee is proposing – then it will not allow us to invest in anything because it will completely destroy our competitiveness. 

The ENVI committee is also proposing tougher measures as regards other pollutants, with a suggestion that a multiplier factor could be added to raise the price of CO2 permits if no action is taken to cut NOx emissions. What do you think of this?

Yes, that’s right. But in reality, there is no scientific basis for this. I mean, CO2 effects are well-known, well-documented. The others are still being studied – and some of our airlines are investing heavily into research on these effects. 

But as long as it’s not scientifically proven and quantified, we think applying a multiplier doesn’t make sense. 

Ultimately, the ETS will be implemented at some point. But a recent study says airlines just won’t be ready for it. What do you think? 

You know, I’m just not sure I know the answer to that one… 

Will the competitive pressure from companies abroad really be so strong seeing as foreign airlines will also have to comply with the scheme? Will there not be a level playing field of some sorts? 

Well no, we won’t be on a level footing because the entirety of our network will be affected, whereas only a small portion of the airlines of other regions will be affected – so no. 

And also, if the proposal is as flawed as the ENVI committee’s proposal is, there is no chance that other regions will follow suit. We’ve seen that in ICAO, haven’t we? I mean, other regions are adamantly opposed to this system because they don’t like it to be forced down their throat. 

So, you believe that if the system that the EU puts in place is too tough then there’s no chance of ever getting a global system? 

Well that’s our real fear. Because a global system would make sense, of course, from a competitiveness point of view but, more importantly, also from an environmental point of view. 

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