I don’t want to seem like an alarmist, but the new environmental religion has become a threat to aviation, and the threat is very real.
Ten protesters at London’s Biggin Hill were arrested last month while blocking access to private aircraft, which make up most of the traffic at that historic airfield. They were protesting the increasing use of private planes which, they claimed, damage the environment. There were similar protests at Farnborough and Heathrow, the latter against airlines.
It’s no small matter. Larger and louder protests in Germany have caught the attention of politicians and restrictive laws are being proposed. Smaller protests of the same ilk are taking place at airports in Canada, where environmentalist politicians are reacting negatively to aviation, and in the United States, where the apostles of Al Gore are not far behind.
It is particularly galling to think of the Canadian government creating disincentives to fly. That country’s vast northern territories, largely untouched by roads, depend utterly on aviation, which also is one of Canada’s most important industries.
Until recently, aviation hasn’t attracted much public concern about engine emissions. Now, however, the assumed impact of “greenhouse gasses” has become the central theme at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), where regulation of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide is displacing airplane noise as the New Big Thing. Onerous regulations are a lot closer than we may imagine.
Peter Ingleton, director of the International Business Aviation Council’s ICAO liaison office, recently pointed out that “the political, economic and business landscape has undergone profound change…in the past 12 months and has altered the environmental debate radically. Powerful commercial, financial and industrial drivers have been unleashed.”
The most noticeable influences, he said, are Al Gore and an analysis of the financial effects of climate change commissioned by the British government. While the latter has been labeled bad science by a large number of climatologists, and a hypocritical Gore is increasingly jeered for his purchase of “carbon offsets” to support his large house, big cars and business jet travel, the heightened exposure has created public perceptions that are increasingly negative toward aviation in general and private aviation in particular.
The European Union’s aviation emissions policy now includes all civil aircraft, whether registered within the EU or outside it. That policy is strongly opposed by non-EU countries, including the United States, and by the International Air Transport Association, but their words appear to be falling on deaf European ears.
The fact is that the entire aviation spectrum, world-wide, produces a shade more than 2% of man-made emissions annually; less, indeed, than the daily outpourings from China and India, and insignificant compared to nature’s emissions from volcanoes and numerous other sources. Nevertheless, the EU is expected to demand that the ICAO, meeting this month, set new international standards complying with those of the EU. It can only be hoped that vigorous debate will ensue and that the delegates will not overreact to special interest fear-mongering.
Setting aside the question of whether global warming actually is a threat to anyone – a debate that is far from over – the proposed regulations and trading schemes (or is that scams?) are sure to invoke the law of unintended consequences which, historically, almost universally are counterproductive. A much-ignored example is pattern procedures created to minimize noise, which generally add miles at lower altitudes to flight paths, burning more fuel and producing more CO2 and NOx emissions. Continuous-descent approaches, where power is reduced at the top and tweaked only as necessary on short final, has been proven far more effective by United Parcel Service pilots and is recognized in the FAA’s NextGen proposal, which is unlikely to beat new emissions rules to the punch.
Vote-hungry politicos and uneducated voters also ignore the probability that the proposed restrictions will result in the forced phase-out of non-compliant aircraft, which is most of them. How many individuals and businesses, let alone the cash-strapped airlines, can afford expensive re-powering, or even more costly replacement, of their airplanes?
“Environmentally responsible” transportation legislation simply is not realistic. Worse, it is coming at a time when the aircraft industry is experiencing unprecedented growth and much-needed profitability, ranging from Light Sport Aircraft through business planes of all kinds, right up to the latest airliners.
Do we really want even more control over our lives by the very people who never have enough of our money, can’t control spending, believe that there aren’t enough regulations concerning the way we live, and are afraid to fight wars?
The broad range of aviation business, and certainly we individual pilots, need to stay alert to this threat and prepare to do battle.
The Greenies will get us if we don’t watch out.
Thomas F. Norton is GAN’s Senior Editor.