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For Immediate Release, March 28, 2012

Contact:  Vera Pardee, Center for Biological Diversity (U.S.), +1 (858) 717-1448
Sarah Burt, Earthjustice (U.S.), +1 (510) 599-8573
Jennifer Andreassen, Environmental Defense Fund (U.S.), +1 (202) 288-4867
Tim Johnson, Aviation Environment Federation (U.K.), +44 (0) 7710 381742
Bill Hemmings, Transport & Environment (BE), +32 (0) 487 582706
George Smeeton, WWF-UK (U.K.), +44 (0)1483 412 388 or +44 (0)7917 052 948

U.S. Airlines Give Up Legal Fight Against European Union Anti-pollution Law

Environmental Groups Call for Constructive Action at U.N. Aviation Body

SAN FRANCISCO—  United Airlines and American Airlines, along with their trade association Airlines for America, gave up Wednesday on a lost cause — a late legal challenge to the European Union’s landmark law limiting global warming pollution from aviation.

While the airlines gave no explanation for abruptly dropping the case in the U.K. High Court in London, it’s likely their attorneys realized the ill-conceived efforts would be fruitless because of a strong Dec. 21, 2011 ruling from the European Court of Justice upholding the EU directive as consistent with international law.

After pursuing the case for more than two years and losing in the European court, the U.S. airlines had filed papers asking permission to add new claims just before the case was scheduled to close. The High Court had planned to hear that request on Thursday, but yesterday the airlines withdrew it. Public-interest groups were pleased at the avoidance of a pointless legal challenge in the U.K. but expressed disappointment that U.S airlines appear to be refusing to accept the European ruling and may simply be moving the battlefield elsewhere. 

Airlines, governments and nongovernmental organizations agree that nations should reduce climate pollution from aviation through the International Civil Aviation Organization. Europe has reiterated that a successful adoption of robust pollution-reduction measures to address global aviation emissions by the Aviation Organization would enable the EU to amend its law.

Rather than continue to fight the EU, the airlines should use the opportunity to support a global deal for aviation, especially given the unexpected momentum created by ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin’s proposal to agree, by the end of the year, on global measures to reduce aviation emissions.

Ironically, some in the aviation industry now appear to be trying to pressure the Obama administration to bring a challenge under the Aviation Organization’s Article 84 procedure based on the same losing arguments the airlines intended to use in the London court. These industry representatives are also pressing the U.S. Congress to prohibit American carriers from participating in the EU law.

The ICAO secretary general has already signaled that an Article 84 challenge would slow the organization’s momentum toward a new agreement.
A better step would be for the United States, Europe and other countries to work together with airlines and civil society to craft a global solution and enforceable domestic measures.

Europe’s Aviation Directive, which includes aviation emissions within the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) beginning Jan. 1, 2012, is a pioneering law that holds airlines accountable for emissions associated with commercial flights that land at or take off from EU airports. Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, rising 3 percent to 4 percent per year. Until now, the sector has escaped regulations that would require emissions reductions.

Three U.S. airlines — United/Continental and American — and their trade association, the Air Transport Association of America, challenged the legality of the aviation emissions trading system, as applied to non-EU airlines. On Dec. 21, 2011, the European Court of Justice upheld the Aviation Directive, making clear that the pioneering law to reduce emissions is fully consistent with international law, does not infringe on the sovereignty of other nations and is distinct from the charges and taxes subject to treaty limitations.

A transatlantic coalition of six environmental groups are intervenor-defendants in the litigation. The coalition includes three U.S.-based groups (Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice and Environmental Defense Fund) and three European groups (Aviation Environment Federation, Transport & Environment and WWF-UK).


About Aviation Environment Federation
AEF is the UK's only environmental organization dedicated solely to addressing the aviation sector's environmental impacts. Established in 1975, AEF's members include the communities living around the UK's airports and environmental organizations.

About the Center for Biological Diversity
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 350,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

About Earthjustice
Earthjustice is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.

About Environmental Defense Fund
Environmental Defense Fund (, a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. See;;

About Transport & Environment
Established in 1990, Transport & Environment (T&E) has grown to become the principal environmental organisation campaigning on sustainable transport at the EU level in Brussels. Our primary focus is on European transport and environmental policy but our work in Brussels is supported by around 50 member organizations working to promote an environmentally sound approach to transport across Europe.

About WWF-UK
WWF is one of the world's largest independent conservation organizations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. We're working to create solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature can thrive. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, tacking climate change and changing the way we live.  

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