European Aircraft Noise Fight Revs Up Again

STRASBOURG, France, February 8, 2002 (ENS) - The European Parliament Environment Committee's rapporteur on airport noise has called for European Union legislative proposals on limiting noise nuisance around airports to be tightened.

In a report presented this week, Dutch Calvinist Hans Blokland calls for more airports to be covered by the law and for the noisiest aircraft to be phased out more quickly.

The draft law was issued by the European Commission in November, hard on the heels of October's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) accord on aircraft noise in which the European Union agreed to withdraw its controversial ban on "hushkitted" aircraft.

Hush kits are mufflers that are retrofitted to older aircraft reducing noise and air pollution from outdated engines.

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Hush kitted aircraft (Photo courtesy Dallas Airmotive)
The Parliament said hush kits do not bring aircraft engines up to European standards, and adopted regulations that would have banned hush kitted aircraft from April 1, 2002.

In January 2000, then President Bill Clinton threatened to challenge the European Union over its requirement outlawing hush kits. If enforced, the European rule would have crippled the market for U.S. manufactured hush kits and would have reduced the market for older, noisier aircraft.

Under the November draft law, EU Member States could phase out aircraft that are only "marginally compliant" with global noise emission standards, but only at airports shown to have particular noise problems. Any aircraft meeting ICAO Chapter 3 limits by five decibels (dB) or less would be affected. Bans would have to be introduced gradually over five years.

Blokland is proposing instead that bans be phased in over four years, and for it to be possible from 2008 to exclude aircraft within eight dB of the international limit.

He also suggests applying the rules at all airports with over 20,000 aircraft movements annually instead of 50,000 as proposed by the European Commission. This could mean up 30 percent more airports being potentially able to impose restrictions.

The association of European airlines could not comment on Blokland's proposals today. It is unlikely to welcome them, having already criticized the European Commission's tamer proposals as "questionable" and "not fully reflecting" the ICAO agreement.

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Planes on the runway at London's Heathrow Airport (Photo courtesy Freefoto.com)
The anti-noise group Green Skies said the changes would "go some way to making [the law] acceptable," while repeating its "fundamental concern" that the Commission had not proposed an EU wide ban on aircraft marginally compliant with Chapter 3 standards.

Blokland's report provides the first indication of parliament's likely response to the Commission's November draft law. The assembly's Transport Committee is leading MEPs' response, but its rapporteur, German Christian Democrat Georg Jarzembowski has not yet released his proposals.

Meanwhile, recent press reports have suggested that Russia is threatening the European Union with retaliatory sanctions if it enforces an imminent tightening of international aircraft noise standards due to enter into force on April 1. Estimates are circulating that over 200 Russian passenger aircraft would be grounded by the move.

Information from the International Civil Aviation Organization is available at: http://www.icao.int/cgi/goto_atb.pl?icao/en/env/overview.htm;env

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}