U.S. Takes Legal Action to Block Europe's Noisy Aircraft Ban

WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - The White House said Tuesday it will challenge the European Union over its new requirement outlawing hush kits on older aircraft. Hush kits are engine mufflers used to reduce noise and air pollution from outdated engines.

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Hush kitted aircraft (Photo courtesy Dallas Airmotive)
Concerned about increasing noise near airports, the European Parliament adopted new regulations last year banning aircraft with engines that do not meet new standards for noise or air pollution, including engines updated with hush kits. The ban takes effect April 1, 2002.

The Parliament said the kits do not bring the engines up to European standards. The Clinton administration plans to file a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations agency that sets global aviation standards in 185 member countries.

"We have to defend our interests now," said Commerce Secretary William Daley, detailing why President Bill Clinton decided to protest the new rules. "We all want more quiet aircraft, but we are not going to let Europe set the standards unilaterally."

The U.S. argues that the European regulation singles out certain aircraft engines used mainly in the U.S. If enforced, the European rule would cripple the market for U.S. made hush kits and reduce the market for older, noisier aircraft.

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U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley (Photo courtesy Dept. of Commerce)
The Commerce Department estimates the rule would cost U.S. companies $2 billion, including $1 billion in lost sales of kits and $1 billion in reduced market value for older aircraft, which cannot now be sold to European airlines.

Last March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that would ban the Concorde, the supersonic aircraft of British Airways and Air France, from landing at U.S. airports. That has not become law, but points the way to a larger trade war unless the hushkit issue is resolved soon.

The European Union called the U.S. decision to file legal action with ICAO a "most unhelpful step" in the long dispute over hush kits.

The EU claims the hush kits are a stop gap measure adopted by the U.S. to avoid implementing more expensive noise and pollution control measures, and that hush kit fitted engines emit more pollutants than newer engines.

The core of the dispute is compliance with ICAO's Chapter 3 noise rules, set for adoption in 2002. Large airlines have bought new planes that meet the new noise standards. Some smaller ones in the United States and in developing countries, have chosen to retrofit their planes with hush kits to lower their noise levels.

But even some large carriers have put hush kits on their planes. For instance, in 1997 American Airlines hush kitted 30 of its Pratt & Whitney JT8D powered Boeing 727 aircraft to bring them into compliance with Chapter 3 rules.

"The JT8D is a rugged, reliable engine that has come to be called the workhorse of commercial aviation," said Robert Wolfe, president of Pratt & Whitney’s Large Commercial Engines unit in 1996 when the hush kit decision by American Airlines was announced. "With hush kits it can go on delivering sterling service for years to come at very low cost to our airline customers."

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Hush kitted aircraft (Photo courtesy Dallas Airmotive)
The ICAO rules do not dictate what method must be used to lower noise levels but mandate that certain standards must be met.

The United States argues that tests show hush kits meet the Chapter 3 noise levels. Europe says the kits flunk.

The dispute has reached a flash point after years of negotiations. Underlying the current battle is an agreement by both Europe and the U.S. to develop the next generation of noise standard that would answer the long term needs of citizens who live near airports, the so-called Chapter 4 standards.

"The European Community committed itself to work, in close co-operation with the U.S. and other partners, on a new ICAO noise standard as a priority. This work should include, in addition to a next generation noise standard, the development of phase out measures for the noisiest categories within Chapter 3," the European Union formally stated in April 1999.