I.        Introduction

In the grand scheme of things, aviation may not represent a huge source of concern with respect to climate change. But neither should the aviation industry (airports included) ignore the fact that aviation does contribute to climate change not only through the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) but also through the emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx), aerosols and their precursors (soot and sulfate), and increased cloudiness in the form of persistent linear contrails and induced-cirrus cloudiness. The intent of this series of articles is to examine the effect aviation has on climate change, outline the regulatory and legal framework that is developing, and to suggest avenues for the aviation industry to pursue in the future.  The first challenge is to clear up some misconceptions about aviation and climate change so that we can move forward with accurate and up-to-date information.

II.      Some Facts About Aviation and Climate Change

In Aviation and Climate Change: the Views of Aviation Industry Stakeholders, the aviation industry makes several claims regarding the impact aviation has on climate change. First, the industry claims that “over the past four decades, we have improved aircraft fuel efficiency by over 70 percent, resulting in tremendous savings.” As a result, the industry continues, “given the significance of fuel costs to the economic viability of our industry, our economic and environmental goals converge.” Second, the industry claims that “because of our aggressive pursuit of greater fuel efficiency, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from aviation constitute only a very small part of total U.S. GHGs, less than 3 percent.” However, in order to assist the industry in its obligation “to further limit aviation’s greenhouse gas footprint even as aviation grows to meet rising demand for transportation around the world,” those claims of progress need to come under a microscope.

        A.            Contribution of Aviation to Climate Change Remains Subject to Debate

First, how much aviation contributes to climate change is still up to debate. Several governmental and aviation industry organizations have been reporting a “less than 3%” number for quite some time while environmental groups, particularly in Europe, claim that the percentage is anywhere from 5 to 9%. In examining the claims and counterclaims concerning emissions of GHG, one has to be very careful about the language and the metrics used in determining the “impact” any given industry will have on “climate change.” Many reports and studies focus only on CO2, since the amount of CO2 produced both naturally and by humans is overwhelming. However, as just about everyone knows by now, there are other gases and anthropogenic actions that exacerbate climate change. For example, the U.S. EPA recently proposed regulations that would require major emitters of six “greenhouse gases” to report their emissions to the EPA on an annual basis. Those six greenhouse gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorochemicals (PFCs), and other fluorinated 20 gases (e.g., nitrogen trifluoride and hydrofluorinated ethers (HFEs)). It also should be kept in mind when discussing climate change, especially with respect to aviation, that water vapor is estimate contribute anywhere from 36% to 72% of the greenhouse effect. This is important because the radiative forcing effect of cirrus cloud formation from the aircraft is a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect. As pointed out above, it is generally accepted that for aviation the GHGs of concern are CO2, nitrogen oxides (NOx), aerosols and their precursors (soot and sulfate), and increased cloudiness in the form of persistent linear contrails and induced-cirrus cloudiness.


Continue Reading Why the Airports and the Aviation Industry Need to Be Concerned About Climate Change: Part One, Facts about Aviation and Climate Change

Although originally billed as a Senate hearing on FAA Reauthorization, because another continuing resolution was passed last week, the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security switched the focus of the hearing from Reauthorization to NextGen and "the Benefits of Modernization." 

Essentially, this hearing was a scaled-down version of the hearing that the House held last week.  (See, "U.S. House Subcommittee on Aviation Holds Hearing on FAA’s NextGen and ATC Modernization Efforts,"  posted March 22, 2009). Indeed, the written testimony of Dr. Dillingham is almost word for word identical to the written testimony presented to the House Subcommittee.  Likewise, the written testimony of Dale Wright, NATCA’s Director of Safety and Technology, was in most respects the same as Patrick Forrey’s last week.  As Sen. John D. Rockefeller, IV, Chairman of the full Committee stated in his opening statement, this hearing was a first step to "move the U.S. past Mongolia in the ranking of air traffic control systems."

It was also Sen. Rockefeller who summed up the problems the FAA has been having not only with respect to NextGen, but many other issues as well:  "[r]ivalries in the aviation community have hampered the industry’s ability to speak with one voice for far too long.  Without that one voice, you will fail."  The simmering labor disputes between the Air Traffic Controllers and the FAA; the mistrust between the Pilots and General Aviation; the airlines’ position with the FAA have all made it difficult for anything to be resolved, even if everyone agrees that some form of NextGen is an absolute necessity.

Thus, the hearing had Hank Krakowski, Chief Operating Officer of the Air Traffic Organization at the FAA, patting FAA on the back for getting ATC Modernization off of GAO’s "High Risk List," (see, "GAO Removes FAA Air Traffic Control Modernization Program From Its High Risk List," posted January 22, 2009) and generally touting how invested the FAA is in working with all stakeholders to achieve the goals.  In counterpoint, NATCA’s Wright, talked about the human cost of NextGen, and telling the Subcommittee that the "FAA  must collaborate meaningfully with stakeholders" pointing out that "to date [NATCA has] received no indication from the FAA that the Agency has any intention of meaningfully collaborating with NATCA."

Likewise, T.K. Kallenbach of Honeywell Aerospace lauded the environmental benefits of Continuous Descent, which is possible with the new NextGen technology.  Meanwhile United Airlines’ Joe Kolshak understandably lobbied hard for NextGen, since the airlines anticipate a huge drop in fuel costs, although the airlines might be looking for some assistance to get the required technology installed into the cockpits.  And finally, Dr. Dillingham once again told a Congressional panel that the "FAA faces challenges in resolving human capital," research and development, and facilities issues.

So, where does that leave us? Two "foundational" and "critical" hearings in which the same people are saying essentially the same thing that they (or their agencies/organizations) have been saying for at least the past two years.  With FAA Reauthorization stalled in the House (see "User Fees Issues Probably Will Force Short-Term Extension of FAA’s Authorization Instead of Full Reauthorization," posted March 16, 2009), and the Obama administrative set to present its proposal in Mid-April, it seems unlikely that anything will get rolling anytime soon.

A list of the witnesses and their written testimonies follows.


Continue Reading FAA Reauthorization, NextGen and ATC Modernization Are theTopics Discussed at U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Hearing

On March 18, 2009, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Aviation held a hearing entitled "Air Traffic Control Modernization and the Next Generation Air Transportation System:  Near-Term Achievable Goals."  The Subcommittee and the FAA are placing much of their hopes and dreams on the viability and success of NextGen and Air Traffic Control Modernization.  In opening comments, it seemed that if ATC Modernization and NextGen are fully implemented all of the current ills of the FAA will be resolved and world peace will be achieved:  safety will be improved, delays will be diminished, air traffic controllers will be able to handle more operations more quickly and more efficiently, pilots will be able to fly better, and, oh, it is good for the environment, too.  While, only being a tad sarcastic, it seems that many dreams have been placed on NexGen’s shoulders.

There can be no doubt that NextGen is needed.  All of the technical witnesses testified that ATC modernization and NextGen are absolutely critical to maintaining the U.S.’s airspace.  Captain Rory Kay, Executive Air Safety Chairman of ALPA, stated that:

NextGen has the potential to revolutionize the National Airspace System and our air transportation system . . . Forecasted increases in air traffic of two to three times today’s traffic cannot be met in today’s NAS.

So what are the problems?  First and foremost, it is a question of funding. As former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey stated, in testimony as President and CEO of Aerospace Industries Association:

Much of what is needed for NextGen falls under the category of "new starts" which, as you well know, are prohibited under funding extensions. A large number of FAA NextGen pre-implementation issues – including development and acquisition decisions, have been adversely affected.

Now that FAA Reauthorization has been put on the back burner with the passage of yet another continuing resolution, do not look for these new NextGen projects to see the light of day any time soon.

Another issue is human resources.  NextGen represents a fundamental shift in the responsibilities and practices of pilots and air traffic controllers.  As Patrick Forrey, President of National Air Traffic Controllers Association, stated:

Under the proposed system, air traffic control would shift to what the FAA is euphemistically referring to as "Trajectory Management."  Essentially, air traffic controllers would discontinue active air traffic control and shift instead to air traffic monitoring and route management.  This could have serious implications for the safety of the NAS.

NATCA worries that "air traffic managers" would rely heavily on an automated system and not how to handle an emergency situation should the automated system go down.

For the airlines and general aviation, the problem with NextGen is the "equipage."  NextGen relies on up-to-date technology not only on the ground, but on the aircraft.  In the early 2000’s, for example, American Airlines retrofitted its fleet to install the Controller Pilot Data Link Communication system only to have FAA abandon its efforts in 2004.  Airlines probably will be reluctant to equip their fleets until the FAA is able to effectively address the legitimate concern that the technology is good investment.  And that is difficult to do when the funding for the programs to develop the technology is not in place and has not been in place for the past 2 years.

All this assumes that the FAA has in place the management infrastructure to effectively manage and implement NextGen.  Although the GAO pulled ATC Modernization off of its "High-Risk" list, NextGen, as soon as its implementation begins will land on the list.  The GAO has found that the JPDO and ATO have made progress in planning for and developing NextGen, but much is left to do.  As Calvin Scovel, the Department of Transportation Inspector General pointed out, the FAA needs to :

(1) establish[ ] priorities and Agency commitments with stakeholders and reflecting them in budget and plans; (2) manage[ ] NextGen initiatives as portfolios and establish[ ] clear lines of responsibility, authority, accountability; (3) acquire[ ] the necessary skill mix for managing and executing NextGen; and (4) examine[ ] what can reasonably be implemented in given time increments.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) stated that this was a "foundational" hearing on a topic of importance.  While Congress debates FAA Reauthorization, NextGen and ATC Modernization must move forward.

Lists of Hearing Witnesses and Links to their written testimonies can be found by clicking on the "Continue Reading" link.


Continue Reading U.S. House Subcommittee on Aviation Holds Hearing on FAA’s NextGen and ATC Modernization Efforts

On March 10, 2009, the GAO made public its response to questions submitted for the record related to the February 11, 2009, hearing concerning  the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009.  At that hearing, Dr. Gerald Dillingham, Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues, was asked a series of questions to which he replied that he would supply written responses at later date.  This document that GAO has now made public are those responses.

Most of the questions concerned NextGen, its implementation, and potential pitfalls that the GAO believes the FAA will encounter.

  1. How can the FAA provide incentives to get aircraft equipped to handle NextGen?
  2. Answer:  Through use of some combination of mandated deadlines, operational credits or equipment investment credits.  FAA has proposed a "best-equipped, best-served" program whereby FAA would offer those aircraft operators who choose to equip their aircraft as soon as possible with various operational benefits, such as preferred airspace, routings, or runway access.  Boeing has proposed a "reverse auction" in which federal investment tax credits would be combined with operational benefits.  This program, however would cost about $750 million annually over and above the cost of the implementation of NextGen.

  3. List of NextGen technology demonstration projects
  4. Answer:  See the next page for a table of the demonstration projects.

  5. Does the GAO distinguish between ATC Modernization and NextGen?
  6. Answer:  The ATC modernization program focused primarily on the acquisition of ATC systems. NextGen is a total transformation of the air transportation system, representing a paradigm shift from air traffic control to air traffic management. It is a shift from ground based radar control of aircraft to a satellite-based, aircraft-centric national airspace system.

  7. If Congress were to provide the level of funding outlined in the FAA’s preliminary estimate, approximately $1 billion more through 2012 than the most recent Capital Investment Plan, would it help to accelerate the development and deployment of NextGen?
  8. Yes, if Congress provided FAA with additional funding, that funding could be applied to a variety of projects and initiatives that would help to accelerate the development and deployment of NextGen.

  9. Would additional funding help to bridge the so-called "NASA Gap?"
  10. The NASA gap has increased in recent years from both the previous administration’s cuts to NASA’s aeronautics research funding and the expanded requirements of NextGen.

  11. Additional research, development and deployment that could be done with funding over and above FAA’s Capital Investment Plan funding levels?
  12. GAO found that avionics development and aircraft equipage are two areas that are critical and time sensitive for the implementation of NextGen and could be candidates for increased funding. In addition, additional funding for human factors to aid in the transition from "air traffic control" to "air traffic management" could be used to elucidate the new roles for all participants.


Continue Reading GAO Supplies Responses to Questions Posed at FAA Reauthorization Act Hearing

The U.S. Government Accountability Office today removed FAA air traffic control modernization program in its biennial update of its list of federal programs, policies, and operations that are at "high risk’ for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement or in need of broad-based transformation.  See, High Risk Series:  An Update, issued January 22, 2009.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report to the Chairman of the U.S House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure entitled "FAA Has Taken Steps to Determine That It Has Made Correct Medical Certification Decisions" on September 30, 2008.

In 2005, a joint investigation known as "Operation Safe Pilot" was conducted by the Department of Transportation Office