- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

PARIS - If the new Airbus A380 is the commercial success its European makers hope, the big loser — apart from Boeing Co. — will be the environment, a French specialist said.

Airbus says its new craft will be far more fuel-efficient than Boeing’s 747 — a jumbo jetliner whose basic design goes back 35 years — and thus, by carrying more passengers farther per gallon of kerosene burned, it is doing the planet a favor.

But Frenchman Jean-Marc Jancovici says such calculations “fail to give the full picture” when it comes to carbon pollution.

Mr. Jancovici, an author of numerous books on climate change who runs a well-regarded Web site (manicore.com) on the global-warming phenomenon, said that if Airbus’ business plan is right, “the number of air passengers will triple in the next 20 years.”

Even if planes get bigger, there still be a lot more of them in the skies to meet such demand, and this will cancel out the benefits in improved fuel efficiency, he said.

Mr. Jancovici drew a parallel with pollution from automobiles: In the past two decades, pollution standards for cars have become progressively tougher. But so many more cars have flooded the roads in the meantime that the annual volume of pollution remains unchanged.

Airbus says the A380 offers a gain in fuel use of about 15 percent, compared with Boeing’s top-of-the-range 747-400.

At a cruising speed of 550 mph, the A380 consumes 1.1 gallons of fuel per passenger per 100 miles traveled, according to Airbus. It cites a figure of 1.25 gallons for the 747-400.

Mr. Jancovici says the gain may be an improvement, “but it is obviously not a solution” if the new generation of aircraft continues to burn a dirty fuel and more and more of the planes take to the skies.

“Instead of increasing pollution, scientists say that the world will have to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by three-quarters just to stabilize the climate system,” Mr. Jancovici said.

Specialists from the United Nations estimated in a series of reports published in 2001 that the world’s average temperature will rise by 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century as heat from the sun is trapped by carbon gases emitted by the combustion of coal, gas and oil.

Aircraft account for 2.5 percent of emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas.

The figure may look small, but it is deceptive, Mr. Jancovici said. Air transport accounts for a very small part of the global economy in proportion to its environmental cost. In addition, because aircraft emit pollution at altitude rather than at ground level, the effect as an amplifier of global warming can be five times as much.

Compounding the problem is that the aviation business is immune from global-warming regulations demanding higher fuel efficiency or lower pollution, and kerosene — a highly polluting fuel — is untaxed.

According to a report published in December by the French Institute for the Environment, a passenger traveling by jetliner emits 40 percent more carbon dioxide per mile than when traveling by car, a figure calculated on the basis of 1.8 persons per vehicle.

The problem is bound to worsen as low-cost airlines make air travel more widely accessible, said Michel Hubert, the study’s author. He estimates that if airline passenger traffic rises 5 percent annually, carbon dioxide emissions by the aviation business will surge by 240 percent in the next 30 years.

“The improvements in energy efficiency achieved are seemingly not sufficient to prevent a significant increase in the impact of air transport and climate change,” Mr. Hubert concluded.

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