US airlines lay out plans to protect environment

The Air Transport Association of America is testifying before the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, detailed the industry’s strong environmental performance and set forth its plans for further enhancing airline efforts to protect the environment.“Commercial aviation in the United States has a decidedly strong environmental track record that is often overlooked or misstated,” said ATA President and CEO James C. May during today’s hearing. “U.S. commercial aviation contributes just 2 percent of domestic greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 25 percent for the balance of the transportation industry. Today’s airplanes are not just smarter - they are quieter, cleaner and use less fuel than ever before - but we also fly them smarter.”

U.S. commercial airlines improved their fuel efficiency by 103 percent between 1978 and 2006, the equivalent of taking roughly 17 million cars off the road. ATA carriers have made a commitment to improve their fuel efficiency by an additional 30 percent by 2025. They also are dedicated to developing commercially viable, environmentally friendly jet fuels.

While May focused primarily on airline-driven initiatives, he added that the commercial aviation industry can achieve an additional 15 percent in fuel efficiency if NextGen, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-led initiative to modernize air traffic control, is approved by Congress.

“Congress should ensure that our outdated air traffic control system is modernized to permit more direct routes, saving fuel and emissions,” he said.

Further, May called for reinstatement of funds that have been cut from environmental research and development programs, which, for decades, have been vital to the development of technologies used not only by the airlines but also by NASA and the armed services.


“We urge Congress to reinvigorate NASA and FAA environmental aeronautics R&D programs. Additional revolutionary advances in airframe and engine technology can only come through government-led R&D, which also serves to preserve American leadership in aeronautics.”

      May also urged Congress to “calibrate” any climate change-related legislation, including the apparent leading cap-and-trade legislation in the U.S. Senate, S. 2191, commonly known as the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, so that it does not undermine the industry’s ability to invest in new technologies.

“To continue our fuel efficiency and other advances, we must have the capital to invest,” May said. “Indeed, FAA estimates that 90 percent of the fuel efficiency and emissions improvements that the airlines have achieved come through the airlines’ own investments in technology. Punitive economic measures that siphon funds out of our industry would severely threaten our ability to continue that record.”

Citing fuel prices, which even prior to the most recent spikes constituted the airlines’ single greatest cost center, May emphasized the industry’s relentless efforts to increase fuel efficiency.

“Even in the highly constrained financial environment in which we now find ourselves, ATA airlines are expending billions to upgrade their fleets” to further strengthen environmental performance. May said, “A vibrant, competitive and growing aviation sector is a key part of the solution - not an impediment to ensuring a future where a strong economy, freedom from foreign oil and cleaner air are the order of the day.”

May concluded, “We are not asking you [Congress] to work for us; we’re asking you to work with us in addressing these important environment and energy concerns.”