Climate Science Watch Paper Finds No Mention of Climate Issues in NextGen Aviation Planning and Development;
Airline Greenhouse Gas Emissions are Expected to Triple in 20 Years

Washington, D.C. – Climate Science Watch, a program of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), today published a white paper criticizing the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) failure to address the contribution of aviation to global warming. The report highlights the administration’s inattention to greenhouse gas emissions by airplanes in strategic plans for the development of the industry, and cautions that this omission could have harmful effects on the future of U.S. aviation if action is not taken.

The report can be viewed at the Climate Science Watch website.

The Bush administration and FAA are currently focusing on a multi-agency effort to enable a major expansion of American air transportation. This effort – the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) – operates under the assumption that the amount of national air travel flights will triple in the next 20 years. Neither the 2005 nor the 2006 NextGen Progress Reports make any mention of climate change, global warming, or the carbon dioxide emissions of aircrafts.

Aviation currently accounts for a substantial 2-3 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and this percentage will increase significantly as flight numbers rise and emission curbing policies are instituted in other industries.

While the FAA takes a leading role in the project, NextGen is a multi-agency initiative. The Joint Planning and Development Office, which produces NextGen, is a body composed of the FAA, NASA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, and other government agencies.

“Continuing to ignore these issues could jeopardize the future of American aviation while allowing air travel to have an increasingly harmful effect on the environment,” said Rick Piltz, Climate Science Watch Director and co-author of the report. “Future global warming emissions reduction policy could place limits on aviation. Federal NextGen planning should be focusing now on systematically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to position U.S aviation to meet such requirements.”

The European Union has taken the lead in addressing the effects of aviation on climate change. The European Commission is currently considering a continent-wide plan to allocate carbon based on aircraft weight and travel distance. European aircraft manufacturers, notably Airbus, have committed to significant reductions in energy consumption and in carbon dioxide emissions. The NextGen participating agencies, on the other hand, have failed to address the importance of climate change and emissions in federal aviation planning reports.

“The Bush administration is again trying to sweep climate change realities under the rug,” Piltz said.

CSW’s report explains that ignoring climate change in aviation policy is detrimental to both the economy and the environment, as the aviation industry may not be able to meet future emission reductions requirements without significant impacts on air travel if policymakers do not deal with the problem proactively. As such, the report recommends that:

  • NextGen leadership be immediately directed to address global warming as a consideration in aviation strategic planning and development issues.
  • Congress include a focus on aviation and climate change in its oversight activity and NextGen funding decisions, and consider how aviation emissions can most appropriately be incorporated into legislation under consideration for mitigating the global warming problem.
  • NextGen’s planning and development process be made more transparent, and broadened to include advisory representatives of other stakeholder interests in addition to those of the airline and aircraft manufacturing industries, including scientists and environmental and other public interest representatives.

Climate Science Watch, initiated in 2005, is a GAP program that holds public officials accountable for how they use climate science. In June 2005 news reports, documents that Piltz obtained showed that a White House official with no scientific training was editing climate change science reports in an attempt to confuse and obscure the problem of human-caused global warming and its impacts.