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This Air is Your Air

U.S. airlines may soon have to choose between violating European or American law.

October 26, 2011

Who says bipartisanship is kaput in Washington, D.C.? On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would bar U.S. airlines from complying with a European Union directive that requires all airliners touching down in Europe to purchase carbon-emissions permits. The bill, sponsored by Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica of Florida, sailed through the House on a voice vote with the support of nine Democratic co-sponsors. Even the Obama Administration is on board.
The European rule, which is set to go into force in January, takes the extraordinary step of requiring airlines to cover the entirety of their flights with carbon-emission permits, even if most of the journey—say, the 3,963 miles from Chicago to London—hardly intrudes on European airspace. "It would be like the U.S. trying to charge British Airways for carrying plastic cartons because it impacts the environment," notes Vaughn Cordle of the Washington-based AirlineForecasts. Airlines that refuse will be subject to a fine of €100 per ton of CO2 that exceeds the EU's limits, and could eventually be banned from operating in the EU entirely.


For passengers on trans-Atlantic flights, what the EU directive will mean is yet another surcharge—about €12 between Brussels and New York—on their tickets. For airlines, the stakes are greater. European carriers have been explicit in supporting the directive as a way of imposing equal costs on their foreign competitors. The industry as a whole faces additional costs of between one and two billion euros next year alone depending on the price of the carbon permits, which isn't exactly pocket change in a business with ultra-tight margins.

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