KUALA LUMPUR // Gulf airlines are forming partnerships with academic institutions and industry to reduce their carbon footprints as international taxes on aircraft emissions draw closer. All airlines are likely to have to pay emissions taxes for flights to Europe from 2012, under the EU emissions trading scheme, and they must begin submitting emission monitoring plans to the EU authorities by September this year.
Qatar Airways is months away from flight testing a new jet fuel that will burn significantly cleaner than conventional aviation fuel, while Gulf Air is preparing to offer a project in which passengers can voluntarily offset the carbon emissions from their flight by supporting a hydroelectric project in Brazil. Etihad is working with Masdar in Abu Dhabi on research into alternative biofuels. Aviation contributes roughly 3 per cent of global greenhouse gases, and its share of global production is expected to rise. Despite its small role in carbon output, airlines face regulations and taxation for their emissions in Europe and soon, perhaps, around the world.
In addition, the UN's follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen 2009 Climate Change Conference in December, is expected to target aviation and shipping among the industries it wants to cap emissions. The EU scheme is widely opposed by airlines, which see their industry as being unfairly singled out. They also fear it could spark a series of half-measures aimed at curbing aircraft carbon emissions by other governments.
"It needs to be a global system - we have got to avoid this patchwork because the bureaucracy will kill us," Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways, told the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) yesterday in Kuala Lumpur. The Qatar Airways chief executive, Akbar al Baker, said his airline was working with Qatar Science and Technology Park on research into commercially producing biofuels for aviation. Mr al Baker said the airline would also test a 50/50 blend of kerosene and gas-to-liquids (GTL), the name given to fuel made from natural gas, on Oct 1 on a commercial flight using one of its A330 aircraft from Gatwick Airport in the UK to Doha.
"We are the least emitters but are the sole target for these taxes," Mr al Baker said. "It is in our interests to act together to find a solution." The IATA has called for the airline industry to become carbon neutral by 2020, which requires that any further growth in the industry fleet be offset through measures that will reduce or offset emissions. They include using new technology, improving air traffic control and investing in offset programmes. Giovanni Bisignani, the director general and chief executive of the IATA, said: "We're moving furthest and fastest than any other industry."
The IATA's first offset programme, which was launched this week, includes several Middle East airlines - Gulf Air, Egypt Air, Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian - in partnership with the Portuguese airline TAP Portugal. The scheme allows passengers to voluntarily offset their share of emissions through charges that support environmental projects such as the Brazilian hydroelectric project. Other voluntary initiatives include one by British Airways, which is supporting a wind farm in Mongolia, and another from Cathay Pacific, which is linking with a wind farm in Shanghai.
Andrew Parker, the senior vice president for public, government and environmental affairs at Emirates Airline, said the carrier had decided against voluntary offset programmes since research showed that the participation by passengers was less than 2 per cent. The airline would rather focus on demanding more fuel efficiency measures in the new aircraft it purchased from Boeing and Airbus, he said, adding: "No one works the manufacturers more than Emirates."
Nor did Emirates plan to test biofuels, unlike other airlines such as Qatar Airways, Air New Zealand, Japan Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic, Mr Parker said, but "when the fuel is certified, we will buy it". firstname.lastname@example.org