The fumes of the aircraft

The environmental implications of the recent aviation boom

Published: Thursday 15 December 2005

The fumes of the aircraft

-- Here is a bit of news that might disturb those going gaga over air-travel becoming "easier and affordable". In 2004, the Committee for Aviation Environmental Protection (caep, a body of the un- affiliated, International Civil Aviation Organisation, icao) estimated that the world's aircraft fleet would touch 25,000 by 2020: more than double the 2002 figure of 12317. But the committee thought that was a matter of great concern. This was because, "recent research ... indicate that aircraft-induced cirrus clouds are potentially the biggest contributors to climate change".

The caep also noted that, "an analysis of the state of knowledge regarding the impact of airport-related emission...indicated that the contribution of airport no2 to...ozone air quality was poorly quantified and subject to large uncertainty". The commission recommended that the un Inter-Parliamentary Committee on Climate (ipcc) Change, The World Meterological Organisation and United Nations Agency for Environment Protection should conduct more studies on aircraft-induced effects on the atmosphere.

Immediate problems This is not all. Modern airports are huge industrial and economic centres. The vicinity of these airports are subjected to the impact of noise and air pollution. The ecology around these air terminals is disturbed, wildlife and land-use and water resources are affected. The icao is not oblivious to these concerns. In fact way back in 1967, the council of the organisation approved a proposal that guidance material should be prepared to help states develop and plan the expansion of existing international airports in accordance with environmental goals.

In its 2004 meet, the icao asked the caep to take account of developments in areas such as land-use planning, noise abatement operation procedures and emission control. It has also asked the committee to keep track of the ipcc's work and keep the un Framework Convention on Climate Change informed of its activities. The caep has also been asked to prepare a technical manual on the environmental impacts of aviation. Analysing noise abatement measures is also on the anvil.

Such interventions have become critical. India is particularly susceptible to aircraft pollution. This is more so because the country's population is 14 per cent of that of the world, while India's land area is only 2 per cent of that of the world. Therefore, airport environments have to deal with pressure from housing enclaves and other built-in-areas.

Problems are likely to become even more acute with the recent aviation boom in the country. Particularly, because the Union ministry of civil aviation (moca) has recently cleared a huge surfeit of foreign flights operating to India; airlines have also been allowed to use high-capacity aircrafts till March 2006.

So what do we do? Aviation is a subject on the central list of legislation. Yet, most states in the country have shown a keen interest to develop airports in recent years. There is a need for proactive interaction between the moca and the Union ministry for environment and forests (moef), as well as between these ministries and organisations such as the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the Airports Authority of India and the state aviation departments. Today: only the moef makes environmental impact assessments for major expansion works at airports. It's time the concerned ministries, departments and agencies combine to frame policies, which will consider the recommendations of the icao committee on environment protection and the organisation's airport planning manual.

S Bhatt is professor of international law, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is a former professor of space law and adviser to the ICAO

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