Aviation vaunts green agenda amid protest fears

Reeling from high oil prices and under pressure to curb pollution, the aviation industry flaunted a green agenda under tightened security amid fears of environmentalist protests at an air show on Wednesday.

The heads of Airbus and the airplane division of rival Boeing set aside fierce rivalries over dwindling jet orders and a trade row over subsidies to share a platform on sustainable aviation on the third day of Farnborough’s air show.

The world’s largest showcase for the aerospace industry, held on alternate years in the small English town and Le Bourget near Paris, takes place against the backdrop of oil prices which have given the industry an incentive to cut fuel and save costs.

Usually brimming with wheeler-dealers in sunglasses promoting the gas-guzzling machines, Farnborough has been bombarded this year with expensively produced posters promoting air travel as the greenest way of crossing the globe.

The opening of a sustainability conference organised by the Farnborough air show was briefly marred by the deafaning roar of a Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet taking off in a reek of fumes.

“That’s not an environmentally friendly aircraft”, Airbus chief executive Tom Enders quipped to journalists in a media centre patrolled by police watching for any protesters breaking through the show’s perimeter ahead of its public days.

The world’s largest airliner, the Airbus A380 superjumbo, was parked behind billboards suggesting the 525-seat aircraft, which Airbus calls the planet’s most fuel-efficient plane, is as environmentally sound as bird flight or water on a leaf.

“I applaud Airbus’s commitment to join us in planting a love of nature in the minds of children and young people,” Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary for the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, said.

The aviation industry is desperate to cut the amount of fuel burned, by reducing weight with new composite materials or making a new generation of engines, in order to prop up orders from sickly airlines as well as to deter greater regulation.

But academics say making aviation carbon-neutral is some way off, as traffic grows faster than even the most optimistic forecasts of average annual increases in efficiency.

“The drive for sustainable development through efficiencies is a genuine one, but it has to match growth. In the short term they won’t be able to do that,” said Professor Paul Hooper, Senior Lecturer at Manchestor Metriopolitan University.

Growth dilemma
Efforts to reduce the the environmental impact of aviation could produce efficiencies of 1% to 2% a year against traffic recently rising as much as 6% a year, he said.

To compensate for this, the industry tends to argue that air travel has social and economic benefits that justify its growth.

Environmental groups say aviation is not pulling its weight in protecting the environment and criticise what they see as comparatively low taxes on airplane fuel.

The mood on the commercial side of the Farnborough Airshow remained sour as executives assessed how to tackle oil around $145 a barrel. But defence industry chalets were busy with briefings on missile defences amid tensions in the Gulf.

Most airplane orders have come from the Gulf offset by a cyclical drop in orders from elsewhere, exacerbated by high oil prices and credit fears.

On Tuesday, Dubai Aerospace confirmed an order for 100 Airbus planes worth $13-billion. Air China announced overnight an order for 45 Boeing planes worth $6,3-billion.

About 350 firm orders for planes were announced during the first two days of the week-long aviation jamboree.

The opening days traditionally account for the bulk of any business. About 600 planes were ordered in Paris in 2007.

The large aircraft industry’s traditional cycle of growth and deceleration usually lasts about a decade but in recent years it had managed a record peak, both in duration and the sheer number of planes on order. - Reuters

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