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Airlines Need Government Financing to Pay for ‘Green’ Upgrades

If the U.S. aviation industry is going to meet its sustainable and environmental stewardship goals, including the implementation of next-generation air traffic management systems, it will need government support, according to a new report released by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).

One of the recommendations cited in the report is a “cash for carbon” plan, which will provide government financing to airlines that reduce carbon emissions to help pay for aircraft upgrades tied to U.S. air traffic modernization, reports Reuters.

The trade group sees the plan as a solution to the problem of funding an overhaul of the aging air traffic network, which would tap into the $50 billion of new infrastructure spending proposed this month by President Barack Obama, according to Reuters.

The financing plan would also be an incentive for airlines and manufacturers to meet voluntary targets for reducing carbon emissions, of which the aviation industry contributes about 2 percent of greenhouse gases worldwide, says Reuters.

“The civil aviation industry is firmly committed to sustainable growth through environmental stewardship — but we cannot do it alone,” said AIA President and CEO Marion C. Blakey, in a press release. “Governments must commit the necessary resources to implement 21st century air traffic management systems that complement and enhance private sector efforts,” he added.

The report, “Civil Aviation Growth in the 21st Century: Meeting Capacity and Environmental Challenges,” outlines several recommendations to help  finance the cost of air traffic modernization, which is pegged at a cost of about $15 billion to $22 billion for the system’s main components, together with another $12 billion minimum to equip planes with navigation tools, reports Reuters.

Funding under the “cash for carbon” proposal could come from government grants, federally backed loans or other loans or a combination of the three, according to the AIA, reports Reuters.

The industry group makes several other policy recommendations that could help the government and industry implement and pay for the overhaul of the the air traffic network.

These include ensuring integration of the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act with NextGen-related airspace redesigns to make environmental reviews less costly and time consuming, extending the Airport Improvement Program grant eligibility to cover NextGen-enabled approaches, and ensuring that the U.S. civil aviation industry has a significant voice in harmonization of NextGen in the U.S. and Europe’s Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) air traffic management systems.

The group also urges international forums such as the International Civil Aviation Organization to create comprehensive, global environmental standards.

A number of airlines including American Airlines have been testing several next-gen technologies over the past few years that are designed to reduce aircraft carbon emissions and improve airline efficiency. Commercial airlines including United, Japan Airlines, Continental Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Airbus, and Air New Zealand also have been testing a number of biofuels.

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