Mr. Babbitt Needs to Get in Shape

By Robert Mark on October 26th, 2011

Some functions come naturally to most humans, eating, sleeping, even defending ourselves … at least most of the time. But the message the House of Representatives just sent FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt with passage of the European Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 is pretty clear. Our administrator needs to find a sparing partner and get himself in shape for the scuffles ahead with Europe.

For years, the European Union has promoted its plan to reduce aviation’s carbon footprint anywhere in the group’s 21-nation states, despite the fact that research shows this industry contributes far less to global warming than just about any other segment such as automobiles — between two and three percent by most calculations.

No matter. It’s their union and they are free to make their own choices. Problem is that this new EU plan will significantly affect our industry here in the states because the EU intends to hold every country responsible for complying with their carbon trading scheme if they fly into EU airspace.

Most other countries are having a little heartburn with the plan, as is ICAO, the United Nations body focused on aviation that believes one country or one region setting it’s own standards – higher or lower than the rest of the world – is a rally bad idea, and one that will be enormously difficult to enforce.

While the EU’s heart might be in the right place as they wrestle with the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many aviation leaders outside the EU are skeptical of the trading scheme … and with good reason.  The unmentioned one, two punch is the huge bureaucracy that will be needed to manage the new system, not to mention the opportunities for someone to make some significant revenues off aircraft operators dragged kicking and screaming into compliance, especially since the EU intends to hold an airplane hostage to the cost of the entire length of the trip. If an aircraft departs Dallas for Paris for instance, the EU intends to collect fees equivalent to the entire length of the trip, not simple for the time flying in EU airspace, meaning international aviation – whether it’s Part 121, Part 135 or a GA biz aircraft flying Part 91 is most likely going to take the biggest hits. Guess where that cash is headed?

Enter the Administrator

You’re probably wondering what this all has to do with Mr. Babbitt.

Well, those nice folks in our own House of Representatives, according to the NBAA, have empowered our FAA administrator to use any means at his disposal to be certain flight operations of U.S. air carriers and corporate operators are not obstructed in any way. Only one thing though … they forgot to mention what tactics Mr. Babbitt might want to try to convince the EU that we’re not playing that game. Ignoring the plan won’t work since the Europeans are very good about impounding aircraft that don’t play by their rules.

I think Mr. Babbitt should just cut to the chase and go duke it out with his EASA counterpart in Brussels, kind of the way Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher did when he challenged the CEO of Stevens Aviation to an arm-wrestling match over the use of the phrase “Plane Smart.” But since this fight is probably going to get ugly rather quickly Randy, don’t waste time working on your arm wrestling like Herb. Kelleher knew the other guy had a sense of humor. Embroiled in economic woes that are at times worse than what we’re seeing here in the states, I doubt the EASA folks will be laughing. In fact, this upcoming fight between Europe and the rest of the world has the potential to leave many bodies along the way to a settlement.

So start training now for that big match with the Europeans Randy. And you better book some time at Gold’s Gym on 3rd St. SW pretty soon, because the EU trading scheme goes into effect January 1, 2012.

Didn’t Congress mention that date to you? Must have been in the fine print.

Rob Mark, Publisher

Flight accidents that are the result of negligent behavior may call for an aviation litigation expert like Kansas City Personal Injury Attorney Robb & Robb.

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4 Responses to “Mr. Babbitt Needs to Get in Shape”

  1. Felipe Andrade Says:

    Geez, arent these guys across the pond reading the news? With the fuel cost flying high, airlines and the industry are trying to burn as little fuel as possible (both A320NEO and 737MAX are coming to prove this, together with the 787). So there is no sense (at least technical) in forcing this kind of act. I know the europeans are going through harsh economy, but this is a completely unnecessary fee.

  2. Thierry Dubois Says:

    Let’s first clarify something: The EU ETS does not levy a fee. The EU now considers CO2 as a commodity with limited availability. CO2 needed a market to be created. Hence fluctuating prices.
    Is it so expensive? Not sure. At current prices, it is better to pay for your over-quota CO2 emissions than investing in the much-touted biofuels. Buying one ton of CO2 in the ETS makes it at least 10 times less expensive than avoiding the emission of one ton of CO2 via biofuel use.
    And the ETS is an effective tool, as the cap decreases from one year to another.
    @Felipe: Fuel prices are an incentive, indeed, for CO2 emission cuts. But this is not enough. Progress in fuel efficiency for aircraft is close to one percent per year. To reach the much-needed goal of dividing CO2 emissions by four by 2050, the annual progress should be about three percent (just do the math).
    Aviation must do its share. Even the European business aviation association has long accepted that. They do argue against the ETS but it is about impractical aspects of implementation for bizav. They agree with the principle.
    In fact, the ETS (the principle of which was invented in the U.S. to fight sulfur dioxide pollution) simply puts a price on dangerous gas emissions, as a strong incentive to curb them.
    And what about this international airspace issue? After all, the U.S. government itself regulates pollution from ships that started their voyages outside its waters.
    Finally, there is one argument against ETS that I don’t understand. Why would U.S. airlines be at a disadvantage?

  3. Rob Mark Says:

    Thierry:

    Perhaps there are a few elements about this trading scheme that I don’t understand.

    But let me address your last question first. Why are any operators at a disadvantage when flying into the EU under this plan?

    That’s simply because — as the plan has been explained to us — operators will be expected to pay for their carbon emissions from their point of departure, hence my comment about the biz jet in the story.

    I for one would like to begin there.

    Is that they way the system is being explained to you in Europe? If not, please tell us.

    Now if it is, how can that possibly be fair?

    Thanks for your note.

  4. Thierry Dubois Says:

    I would say this is still fair. A flight from Madrid, Spain to Helsinki, Finland (over four hours) will have to pay much more than, say, a flight from Paris to London (less than one hour).

    Also, the ETS encourages a low-hanging fruit strategy: Let’s cut CO2 emissions where it is least expensive first. Indeed, it may not be in aviation. So operators will buy emission credits simply because it is less costly for them than betting on game-changing technologies. These technologies will become economical as the price of CO2 increases.

    Let me insist something has to be done now!

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