EPA Adopts ICAO Standards For Aircraft Emissions

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday finalized emissions standards for aircraft used in commercial aviation and large business jets. The regulations will align US standards with the international carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). However, the new EPA regulations are expected to have minimal impact on United States airlines.

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New EPA regulations regarding aircraft emissions have come into force. Photo: Denver International Airport

“Because of the U.S. aircraft industry’s innovative leadership, many airplanes manufactured by US companies met the ICAO standards at the time of their adoption in 2017, and already meet the standards contained in this action,” a statement issued by the EPA said.

Modern US-manufactured aircraft already met the new EPA standards

ICAO 2017 emissions standards aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new aircraft by 4% over 12 years. But as the EPA notes, most new aircraft already meet or exceed this standard. Some green groups argue this renders the new EPA regulations useless.

“This do-nothing rule is totally inadequate in light of the climate crisis,” said Annie Petsonk, International Counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund. “It does nothing to reduce emissions from this key (aviation) sector.”

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Modern Boeing aircraft already met the new EPA standards. Photo: Boeing

According to the EPA, the transportation sector accounted for 28% of greenhouse emissions in the United States in 2018. Aviation accounts for about 9% of emissions within the transportation sector. However, the airline industry’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is rising fast.

This can be attributed to increases in the number of aircraft operating in the United States. 2020 may have presented a roadblock to this growth rate. However, aircraft numbers in the United States have been increasing for years. At the start of 2020, there were just under 220,000 commercial aircraft in the United States. The United States is the largest single aviation market in the world. US airlines transport more passengers than airlines from any other country. Furthermore, the United States is home to around half of the top ten airlines worldwide in terms of revenue.

Benefits beyond the United States, say the EPA

The new EPA regulations will require US-based aircraft manufacturers to build planes that meet ICAO standards. The EPA notes it’s not just about the United States. Three out of four aircraft made in the United States go to overseas airlines.

“These standards will help ensure consistent standards across the world, and most importantly allow US manufactured planes, such as commercial and large passenger jets, to continue to compete in the global marketplace,” says the EPA.

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The EPA says the new regulations will also benefit airlines from outside the United States. Photo: Boeing

The new EPA regulations tackle greenhouse gas emissions from burning aviation gas. But environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund argue the regulations don’t go far enough.

“EPA’s promulgation of a final rule on aircraft greenhouse gas emissions recognizes that it’s essential to look at the entire aircraft, not just the engine, since the structure, operation, and fuel characteristics are all important determinants of aviation pollution,” says Ms Petsonk.

“Moreover, EPA’s new rule fails to address the environmental injustice of high toxic and particulate pollution around airports, which disproportionately affects airport workers and local communities downwind.”

However, the EPA calls it a pragmatic move that helps deal with climate change. The regulations do so without sacrificing jobs or damaging the aviation industry.

What do you think? A good move or a do-nothing regulation? Will it have much impact on the United States aviation industry? Post a comment and let us know?

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