Europe Secures Victory Over Aircraft Noise

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, October 8, 2001 (ENS) - The European Union has secured the right for airports within the bloc to tackle noise pollution by restricting aircraft access, it emerged Friday at an international aviation conference held in Montreal. The deal is an important victory for the European Union in the face of increasing pressure from citizens to cut aircraft noise.

The agreement could also play a role in resolving a legal dispute with the United States over older American aircraft fitted with mufflers known as hushkits.

The agreement is expected to be rubber stamped by member countries of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as they wrap up their latest triennial assembly. Negotiations over the rights of individual countries or regions to impose restrictions on aircraft access proved the most contentious environmental issue facing the meeting.

Until now, imposing so-called "operating restrictions" on aircraft on noise pollution grounds would have been in contravention of ICAO rules.

Heathrow

Planes at Heathrow Airport, London (Photo courtesy Freefoto.com)
According to a source close to the process, the dispute centered on differences in opinion between the United States and the European Union. The USA wanted all ICAO countries to be required to follow a prescriptive noise management process virtually identical to its own, which focuses heavily on land use planning solutions and requires strict implementation of least cost options. This system has made it almost impossible for airports in the USA to introduce operating restrictions on aircraft, the source said.

Meanwhile, the European Union was determined to secure flexibility to introduce new anti-noise measures.

The final deal allows the noisiest planes to be restricted, and if necessary withdrawn, at certain times of day or under certain conditions on an airport-by-airport basis, once a preliminary assessment looking at the noise mitigation options has been carried out.

The impact of the agreement on the long standing dispute over hushkitted aircraft remains to be seen, but the European Commission may be able to use it to break the current deadlock between the European Union and the United States.

If EU transport ministers and Members of the European Parliament agree, the Commission could retreat from the ICAO dispute procedure on hushkits and opt instead to propose a law on noise around airports that would make it highly unlikely that EU airports would grant access to hushkitted planes, the source suggested.

The issue of aviation's greenhouse gas emissions was also discussed during the assembly. No firm commitment to introduce a tax or charge on aviation fuel some time in the future was forthcoming, as EU transport ministers have demanded.

Still, a reference endorsing the polluter pays principle has been added to ICAO statements on emissions, and this is being interpreted by some as a sign of things to come. An attempt by the USA to remove references to the Kyoto climate protocol was rejected.

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