Adonis defends aviation industry over emissions

Transport secretary says it is 'perfectly credible' for airlines to continue to expand as new technology to control their carbon emissions becomes available

The government has defended aviation's growing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions following last week's warning that the industry will be the biggest contributor to global warming in the developed world by 2050.

Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, said other sectors such as car manufacturers could lower their carbon dioxide output more easily and argued that it was "perfectly credible" for airlines to continue expanding as new technology becomes available.

The Committee on Climate Change, the government's advisory body on global warming, portrayed aviation as the laggard in the emissions reductions race last week after calculating that the industry will account for a quarter of the carbon dioxide generated in developed countries in 2050, against 1.6% currently. Airlines would be the biggest emitters even if they met a tough UK government target of limiting their 2050 emissions to below 2005, the commission said.

"The reason why aviation will achieve a higher proportion [of CO2 emissions] is that it is harder to replace the carbon impact of aviation than it is in other sectors," said Lord Adonis.

Speaking at an Aviation Club lunch in London, he added that new technology and the emergence of biofuels would help offset the environmental cost of expanding the industry, which is expected to double in the UK to 465 million passengers per year by 2030.

The committee raised doubts last week that aircraft manufacturers and airlines could fund the research and development needed to produce more carbon-friendly jets and engines.

But Lord Adonis said there was a "growing confidence" that the industry could lower its emissions significantly with technological breakthroughs. "It is perfectly credible that we can have growth in passenger numbers at significant levels," he said.

One of the two major aircraft manufacturers, Airbus, forecast a 2% dip in passenger traffic this year as the recession hits demand. The European company also predicted that sales would be flat next year and that order cancellations and deferrals were likely over the winter as airlines struggled for cash. "We are expecting some airlines to say 'we would love to have the aircraft, but we haven't got the money,'" said John Leahy, chief operating officer of Airbus.

However, the expected 2% drop in demand is much more positive than projected figures released by the International Air Transport Association (Iata), which said the industry could see a £16.9bn loss in 2008 and 2009, with passenger numbers falling 4%. Leahy said Airbus was more optimistic because Iata figures did not take budget and domestic airlines into account.

Airbus bosses expect to deliver 480 aircraft in 2009, the same as last year, but think new orders will be at the lower end of the 300-350 projection made earlier this year.

Leahy also said that he did not expect last week's interim report by the World Trade Organisation on Boeing's complaint that Airbus was receiving unfair levels of EU aid and subsidies to have any effect. "I see on no impact on the A350 programme, we already have 500 firm orders for all three models," Leahy said.

Airbus's global market forecast says it expects that 25,000 new passenger and freight aircraft will be sold between 2009 and 2028 at a value of $3.1tn (£1.9tn). This compares with last year's forecast of 24,300 new planes for $2.8tn in the 20 years to 2026.

Asia, which currently accounts for 26% of the global airline market, would drive this growth. China and India are projected to be among the top five countries in terms of passenger aircraft demand, fuelled by the booming domestic air travel business in those two countries.


Dan Milmo and Abhinav Ramnarayan

The GuardianTramp

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