The global air cargo industry yesterday joined with other aviation organizations in praising the European Union (EU) for postponing for one year an aircraft emissions program that critics said would have allowed the EU to charge foreign airlines for emissions.
The EU program would require all airlines landing at or taking off from an airport in Europe to buy emissions allowances covering the entire flight even if only a small portion of the flight was over EU airspace. Carriers that didn't purchase allowances for the entire flight would be fined. Critics have called the plan an illegal attempt by the EU to impose a taxation regime on other nations.
Supporters of the plan, however, say it represents a market-based solution to reward airlines that adopt "green" standards and to punish polluters. It is generally believed that transportation accounts for most of the carbon emitted by global supply chains.
In a statement, Michael Steen, chairman of The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), called the EU's action a "very welcome and pragmatic move." He said that the decision to delay the program was a strong sign that the regulatory body is "intent on working with international partners to achieve a global agreement on reducing aviation CO2 emissions."
Steen and others have called for a uniform global emissions-reduction scheme to be developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in conjunction with industry and with regional regulators. ICAO was given a mandate by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to develop a global approach to cutting aviation emissions, but officials have said they are cautious about implementing a global plan since the imposition of emissions standards is a regional issue.
In addition to TIACA, the International Air Transport Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and U.S trade group Airlines for America (A4A) have applauded the EU's decision. The proposed tax would have cost U.S. airlines more than $3 billion through 2020, according to the trade group.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in approving bipartisan legislation (S. 1956) ensuring that U.S. airlines would never participate in a scheme as outlined by the EU. The bill awaits President Obama's signature.
"This bill is a firm response by the United States Congress that this nation will not allow U.S. jobs and our aviation industry to be threatened by the EU's unilaterally imposed and unlawful tax scheme," said Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "Participation will put U.S. air carriers at a competitive disadvantage and lead to fewer aviation jobs for Americans."
Mica said the EU scheme "clearly violates international law and U.S. sovereignty" and called it an attempt at a "cash grab" by a financially struggling EU. Mica noted there is no requirement that funds collected through the scheme be used to reduce aviation emissions.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking last month at the International Air Cargo Forum in Atlanta, said the manner in which the EU implemented the plan was "lousy," adding that the U.S. government "wasn't even consulted." Speaking at the same conference, Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines Inc., called the plan "extraterritorial," adding that is "not the most effective approach to levy a tax."
Anderson said, however, that he is optimistic about the prospects for a global aviation emissions framework.