Aviation and the Environment:

Strategic Framework Needed to Address Challenges Posed by Aircraft Emissions

GAO-03-252: Published: Feb 28, 2003. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 2003.

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Although noise has long been a problem around airports, the anticipated growth in demand for air travel has also raised questions about the effect of airport operations on air quality. Aviation-related emissions of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to the formation of ozone, have been of particular concern to many airport operators. A federal study at 19 airports estimated that, by 2010, aircraft emissions have the potential to significantly contribute to air pollution in the areas around these airports. GAO agreed to review efforts in the United States and other countries to reduce emissions at airports and the effect of improvements in aircraft and engine design on emissions.

Many airports have taken measures to reduce emissions, such as converting airport ground vehicles from diesel or gasoline to cleaner alternative fuels. While the actual impact of these measures is unknown, some measures (such as shifting to cleaner alternative fuels) have the potential to significantly reduce emissions, such as nitrogen oxides. In some cases--such as at Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth airports--the emission reduction measures have been imposed by federal or state agencies to bring severely polluted areas into attainment with the Clean Air Act's air quality standards or to offset expected increases in emissions from airport expansion projects. Many industry and government officials that GAO contacted said that new, stricter federal air quality standards that will go into effect in 2003, combined with a boost in emissions due to an expected increase in air travel, could cause airports to be subject to more federal emission control requirements. In 1998, a group of government and industry stakeholders was established to develop a voluntary nationwide program to reduce aviation-related emissions; however, thus far, the group has not agreed to specific objectives or elements of a program. Other countries use many of the same measures as the United States to reduce emissions at airports. Two countries have imposed landing fees based on the amount of emissions produced by aircraft. However, U.S. officials question the effectiveness of these fees. Research and development efforts by the federal government and the aircraft industry have improved fuel efficiency and reduced many emissions from aircraft, including hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, but have increased emissions of nitrogen oxides, which are a precursor to ozone formation. As a result, many new aircraft are emitting more nitrogen oxides than the older aircraft they are replacing. For example, GAO's analysis of aircraft emission data shows that the engines employed on the newest models of a widely used jet aircraft, while meeting current standards for nitrogen oxide emissions, average over 40 percent more nitrogen oxides during landings and takeoffs than the engines used on the older models. Technologies are available to limit nitrogen oxide emissions from some other newer aircraft models. Many state and federal officials GAO contacted said that, in the long term, nitrogen oxide emissions from aircraft will need to be reduced as part of broader emission reduction efforts in order for some areas to meet federal ozone standards.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA is leading a U.S. effort within ICAO's Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection that will (1) assess the state of science and technology related to aircraft emissions, and (2) identify the necessary standards and goals, operational measures, and market-based options to reduce these emissions, considering technological feasibility, economic reasonableness, and environmental benefit.

    Recommendation: In developing this framework, the Administrator should coordinate with the airline industry, aircraft and engine manufacturers, airports, and the states with airports in areas not in attainment of air quality standards. Among the issues that the framework should address are coordination of emission reduction proposals with members of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA established a national roadmap for Particulate Matter (PM) emissions from aircraft engines with NASA, EPA, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), DOD, and the aerospace industry; established next generation air transportation system (NGATS) with NOAA, DOD, EPA, and the Department of the Interior; and completed a study on aviation and the environment as required by section 321 of Public Law 108-176 - Vision 100 Century of Aviation Act (currently being reviewed by OMB).

    Recommendation: In developing this framework, the Administrator should coordinate with the airline industry, aircraft and engine manufacturers, airports, and the states with airports in areas not in attainment of air quality standards. Among the issues that the framework should address are the roles of NASA, other government agencies, and the aviation industry in developing and implementing programs for achieving needed emission reductions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Section 709 of Public Law 108-176, Vision 100--Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act, established a charter to transform the current air transportation system into the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS) by 2025. The legislation created a unique coalition of government agencies that will lead this effort. The Joint Program and Development Office (JPDO), led by FAA, is working with member agencies to roadmap high-level strategies and key events to further identify the research and development needs, on-going activities, and significant gaps towards the execution of the strategies. FAA is leading the environmental integrated product team (EIPT) that has been formed to achieve FAA's NGATS plan. At present, EIPT is defining emphasis areas for the next five years in the areas of metrics/science, analytical tools, operations, technology, and policy.

    Recommendation: In developing this framework, the Administrator should coordinate with the airline industry, aircraft and engine manufacturers, airports, and the states with airports in areas not in attainment of air quality standards. Among the issues that the framework should address are goals and time frames for achieving any needed emission reductions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA is leading the environmental integrated product team (EIPT) that has been formed to achieve FAA's Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS) plan. At present, EIPT is defining emphasis areas for the next five years in the areas of metrics/science, analytical tools, operations, technology, and policy. FAA is leading a U.S. effort within ICAO's Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection that will (1) assess the state of science and technology related to aircraft emissions, and (2) identify the necessary standards and goals, operational measures, and market-based options to reduce these emissions, considering technological feasibility, economic reasonableness, and environmental benefit.

    Recommendation: In developing this framework, the Administrator should coordinate with the airline industry, aircraft and engine manufacturers, airports, and the states with airports in areas not in attainment of air quality standards. Among the issues that the framework should address are options for reducing aviation-related emissions, including the feasibility, cost, and emission reducing potential of these options.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA established a Partnership for Air Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction (PARTNER) with NASA and Transport Canada through one of FAA's Centers of Excellence (COE).

    Recommendation: In developing this framework, the Administrator should coordinate with the airline industry, aircraft and engine manufacturers, airports, and the states with airports in areas not in attainment of air quality standards. Among the issues that the framework should address is the interrelationship among emissions and between emissions and noise.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA is working with EPA on a final rule that offers more stringent standards for nitrogen oxides (a 16 percent increase in certification stringency) for aircraft certified beginning in 2004.

    Recommendation: In developing this framework, the Administrator should coordinate with the airline industry, aircraft and engine manufacturers, airports, and the states with airports in areas not in attainment of air quality standards. Among the issues that the framework should address is the need for baseline information on the extent and impact of aviation-related emissions, particularly nitrogen oxide emissions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA (1) wrote an Aviation Emissions Primer; (2) established a Partnership for Air Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction (PARTNER) with NASA and Transport Canada through one of FAA's Centers of Excellence (COE); (3) established a national roadmap for Particulate Matter (PM) emissions from aircraft engines with NASA, EPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), DOD, and the aerospace industry; (4) established next generation air transportation system (NGATS) with NOAA, DOD, EPA, and the Department of the Interior; (5) completed a study on aviation and the environment as required by section 321 of Public Law 108-176--Vision 100 Century of Aviation Act (currently being reviewed by OMB); and (6) established the Voluntary Airport Low Emissions Program (VALE), as required by the Vision 100 Century of Aviation Act.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Department of Transportation, should direct the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in consultation with the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to develop a strategic framework for addressing emissions from aviation-related sources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to FAA, as the next generation air transportation system (NGATS) plan and its various elements mature, appropriate reports will be generated for the Congress and the public detailing plans, strategies, and achievements. This should provide the interested Congressional committee with appropriate information to assess both the plans put in place and the degree of success achieved in addressing aviation emission issues. In January 2006, FAA provided to Congress the report "Aviation and the Environment: A National Vision Statement, Framework for Goals and Recommended Actions." The report provides a framework for developing measurable national goals for long term improvements in the environmental effects of aviation. The report also recommends three actions to achieve a National Vision for Aviation and the Environment: 1) Establish an interagency group to promote coordination and cooperation among stakeholders; 2) Develop more effective tools and metrics for guiding policy decisions and for planning research investments; and 3) the vigorous pursuit of a balanced approach toward the development of operational, technological and policy options to reduce the unfavorable impacts of aviation. According to the Director of FAA's Office of Environment and Energy, FAA has briefed the House and Senate Aviation Subcommittees on the report. He also noted that FAA is using the report as a roadmap for the environmental strategy that is part of the NGATS plan.

    Recommendation: Upon its completion, the Administrator, FAA, should communicate the plan to the appropriate congressional committees and report to them on its implementation on a regular basis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

 

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