At a May 6, 2008, hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Aviation, the FAA sought to dispel several "myths" concerning the effect that aircraft emissions of greenhouse gases have on the environment.  Coming a little over one month after the EPA announced its plans to issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for aircraft emissions of GHG (see, "EPA Plans to Release an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Emissions" below),  Daniel K. Elwell, Assistant Administrator, Office of Aviation Policy, Planning and Environment, testified that there were three myths that needed to be put to rest.  First, Mr. Elwell stated that aircraft emissions account for only 3% of GHG emissions, and “the largest aviation market in the world is burning less fuel today than in 2000.”  Indeed, Mr. Elwell, said, aviation in general and aircraft in particular are becoming more fuel efficient, now outstripping automobiles in terms of energy intensity – that is automobiles burn more BTUs per passenger mile than aircraft.  This increase in fuel efficiency and the attend reduction in GHG emissions was one of the primary themes of several other witnesses as well:

Second, Mr. Elwell stated that CO2 emissions by aircraft at altitude do not have any more (or any less) effect on climate change than CO2 at ground level.  David H. Fahey, a research physicist for NOAA, has a small issue with that statement, when he responded to Rep. Ehlers’ question about the effects of emissions.  Dr. Fahey stated that although CO2 does not affect atmosphere any differently at altitudes, nitrous oxides, a component of aircraft emissions, do.  That, in turn, affects ozone creation and methane. “That aspect of aviation is one that stands out,” Dr. Fahey stated. Moreover, Dr. Fahey continued, aircraft emission create water vapor in the upper atmosphere, i.e., contrails, which in turn creates clouds, which in turn creates "radiative forcing," a primary element of climate change.

Finally, Mr. Elwell wanted to make clear that the U.S. was not falling behind Europe in terms of environmental impact of aircraft emissions.  European aviation emissions, Mr. Elwell testified, have increased three times faster in recent years than U.S. emissions. He says that the U.S. is happy to participate in market-based environmental initiatives, as long as they are “based on mutual consent.”

This led to perhaps the testiest exchange, though came when the Subcommittee heard from Ambassador John Bruton, Head of the Delegation of the European Commission to the United States.  Ambassador Bruton testified about the controversial inclusion of aviation in EU’s Emission Trading Scheme.  He believed that because aviation emits far more CO2 than other industries included in ETS, such as steel and oil, aviation must be included in the ETS.  Everyone seemed to acknowledge, however, that ICAO was the proper forum, although Ambassador Bruton indicated that the EU has attempted to go that route, but did not receive any indication that ICAO would take any action.  The members of the Subcommittee apparently did not cotton to the idea that the EU was taking the lead on this issue.  It also should be pointed out that the Lieberman-Warner Bill, currently before the Senate contains an emissions trading program.

Dr. Gerald L. Dillingham, Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues, for the U.S. Government Accountability Office also testified.  It was his belief that the aviation inductry could achieve significant reductions in emissions through the use of "Next Generation Air Transportation System" (NextGen) and an increase in research and development to promote such technologies as biofuels and fuel cells.  NextGen involves new technologies and air traffic procedures that can reduce aviation emissions and incorporates research and development on emissions-reducing technologies.

In short, the industry stated that it was making strides toward fuel efficiency, which would lower the amount of GHG emissions, although a more fuel efficient fleet would also increase the airlines’ and aircraft manufacturers’ bottom line, as well.  The government pointed to (reasonably) successful efforts made in better management of the airports and airways.  What remains to be seen is what action, if any, the House will take.

Also testifying:

For video of the session, click here for Panel I and here for Panel II.