New plan to reduce CO2 emissions

March 31, 2009 10:48:41 AM PDT
Environmental thinking is literally taking off in Europe.

Aviation groups in Europe announced a plan Tuesday to change the way commercial planes land in order to reduce their global-warming emissions of carbon dioxide.

By 2013 some 100 European airports will allow planes to descend all the way from cruising altitude to the runway in one smooth glide, saving up to 450 kilograms (992 pounds) of CO2 per landing, the International Air Transport Association said.

In all, airlines are hoping to save 500,000 metric tons (515 US tons) of carbon gas this way each year, said IATA's head of infrastructure Guenther Matschnigg.

The measure - the first continentwide plan of its kind - is part of the airline industry's effort to combat climate change, IATA said.

It also comes amid concerns that the current global economic crisis could keep governments and businesses from transforming their carbon-dependent economies.

Industry leaders meeting in Geneva for a two-day summit on aviation's impact on the environment said that while the slowdown in air travel would lead to lower carbon emissions in the short term, a sustainable reduction requires new technologies and more efficient use of airspace.

IATA, which represents 230 airlines worldwide, said last week that passenger traffic is expected to drop by 5.7 percent this year, while cargo demand will decline by 13 percent. The resulting reduction in flights will cut carbon emissions by 6 percent this year, said IATA chief executive Giovanni Bisignani.

Fuel-efficiency measures will cut emissions by a further 1.8 percent, resulting in a total reduction of 10 million tons of CO2 this year, he said.

"2009 is a critical year," said Bisignani. IATA last week predicted airlines worldwide would lose $4.7 billion this year as a result of the downturn.

Airlines want governments to earmark part of their economic stimulus packages for research and development into biofuels and next-generation air traffic management systems, he said.

Governments should also resist the temptation to impose "crazy taxation" on the airline industry in a bid to divert revenue to other ailing sectors of the economy, Bisignani said.

"Airlines are suffering, customers are staying away, production is being held back," Francois Gayet, chairman of aircraft makers association ICCAIA, told the meeting.

"On the one hand these conditions are conducive to a reduction in emission levels, but this is not the best way for our sector to improve our performance," he said. "Now is certainly not the time to reduce the level of public support and funding going into aeronautics research."

Subsidies for aircraft makers are the subject of several ongoing trade disputes, particularly between the United States and the European Union.

The air traffic management association CANSO said carbon reductions also can be achieved by making better use of available airspace.

Currently, efficiency levels of 92 percent will drop as airline traffic grows unless existing flight path restrictions are lifted, said CANSO's Secretary-General Alexander ter Kuile.

Aviation groups predict air traffic will increase fourfold between now and 2050, far outstripping current emissions saving efforts.

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