European Airline Industry Develops 'Clean Sky' Initiative

European Airline Industry Develops 'Clean Sky' Initiative

As part of a newly created "Clean Sky" initiative, the European government is working with airlines and manufacturers to cut the industry's emissions by 40 percent of present levels in 2015.

The plan, announced at the Paris Air Show held last week, is part of a multi-pronged effort to reduce the effects of the aviation industry on global warming, and will use six different technical categories to develop greener airplane technology. The E.U. predicts that by 2015, planes will be taking off that emit 40 percent less carbon dioxide, 60 percent less nitrous oxide, and are half as loud as current airplanes.

"The EU is not just talking about tackling climate change," said E.U. Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik. "It is also making the necessary investment in technological development. Clean Sky will make the best use of both public and private resources to develop cleaner and quieter aircraft, with spill-over benefits in many other areas of science such as materials, computer simulations and energy management."

Some of the different technologies under study in the initiative include developing engines that burn less fuel and burn it slower, building wings that make planes more energy efficient, introducing lighter materials to airplanes and studying how best to address the life-cycle of materials and components used within airplanes.

According to a study by the Association of European Airlines, although the European airlines have already begun successfully limiting their greenhouse-gas emissions through technological improvements, as much as 12 percent of their carbon-dioxide output is caused by inefficient and inadequate infrastructure.

In addition to the technological proposals announced at the air show, part of the Clean Sky Initiative involves including the airline industry in the E.U.'s cap-and-trade emissions program. Although airline leaders applaud that move, they said that creating a "Single European Sky" would have an overall greater impact on aviation's environmental footprint.

"While the EU seeks to incorporate aviation into the Emissions Trading Scheme, we are facing the prospect of having to buy permits to fly round in circles waiting for landing slots, or zigzag across the sky from one national airway network to another," said AEA Secretary General Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus.

He added that the Single Sky would be good for the environment, would cut costs for airlines and reduce delays for passengers. "The project is technically feasible; its greatest obstacle is political...By its very nature, the Single Sky concept requires individual countries to relinquish sovereignty over their airspace and cooperate in one single system," Schulte-Strathaus said.

Environmental groups responded to the Clean Sky accouncement with skepticism, saying that the public has begun to recognize the impact of air flight on global warming, and innovation can only go so far to stem the tide.

"There won't be any significant breakthrough for at least three decades. There is no technical fix," said Joss Garman of U.K. activist group Plane Stupid. "All we can do is reduce the amount we fly."