FAA Needs to Pay Attention to Greenhouse Gas Contributions by Air Traffic

The American aviation industry is expanding rapidly. By the year 2025, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts a three-fold increase in American air traffic. This growth affords our country extraordinary opportunities for creating new investments, technologies and jobs. However, it also presents significant environmental challenges. Air transportation already contributes 2-3 percent of today's greenhouse-gas emissions, and this percentage will increase dramatically as flight numbers rise and other sectors implement emissions-curbing policies. A 2004 report to Congress sponsored by the FAA stated that climate change "may be the most serious long-term environmental issue" facing aviation.

Nevertheless, the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) – a long-term, multi-agency planning and development effort led by the FAA – appears to be engaging in a deliberate effort to disconnect aviation planning from the global warming problem. The 2005 and 2006 NextGen annual progress reports, while addressing issues from in-terminal passenger baggage security screening to taxi-time on airport runways, include no discussion of either aviation’s greenhouse-gas emissions or global warming as a potential constraint on the development of aviation.

We believe that this approach is shortsighted and evasive. If allowed to continue, it will mark a failure of national preparedness on the most significant environmental challenge facing the future of aviation. Furthermore, by overlooking the potential economic consequences of future global warming mitigation policy on the aviation industry, it may jeopardize the long-term health of a major contributor to the United States economy.