Skip to main content

An affiliate of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce

President Obama’s call to regulate airplane emissions may cause major challenges for the airline industry

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared that airplane carbon emissions present a hazard to human health because of their contribution to global warming. Due to this finding, EPA is required to develop new regulations for the industry.

EPA officials have stated they will not begin work on independent regulations until after the aviation industry finishes international negotiations on limiting carbon emissions. These negotiations have been taking place within the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization. The negotiations began in 2009 and are scheduled to be completed in early 2016. However, environmental groups are concerned that a weak set of regulations will come out of UN negotiations and have urged EPA and the White House to promulgate an independent, stricter, national standard.

The aviation industry contends that they have taken steps independent of the government to increase fuel efficiency and police carbon emissions. Over the last half century fuel efficiency of commercial airplanes has risen 70 percent. Furthermore the industry has independently worked to increase efficiency and reduce fuel use as well as invest in carbon-neutral and biofuel technologies that may be able to be used as long-term alternatives to jet fuel. Commercial airlines also have voluntarily committed to limit their growth of carbon emissions to two-percent a year and to cut emissions levels in half of their 2005 levels by 2050. Therefore the industry argues increased regulation is not necessary. Emissions from air traffic make up approximately two-percent of global emissions, but EPA notes that as air travel becomes more affordable to larger swaths of the global population, the industry’s proportion of emissions will increase faster than other sources. Industry experts raised the concern that any rulemaking will increase already high costs, which may be passed onto consumers.

Due to EPA’s time table of when to start the rulemaking process, a final rule likely will not be promulgated until after the end of President Obama’s term.