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Europe Looks to Create Cleaner, Quieter Aircraft

A European joint venture hopes to produce the next generation of cleaner, quieter airplanes. The program is seen as necessary to help Europe's aerospace industry compete globally.

Airplane flies across an orange sky

The EU and European companies want to make flying climate friendlier

The European Union and European aerospace industry have launched a 1.6 billion ($2.3 billion) program to develop aviation technology that would cut down on pollution by 2015.

Half of the money for the clean sky program will come from the EU's research budget. Individual research projects will be selected in the first two years of the seven-year project.

"The next generation of airplanes will be out in 12 years," said Marc Ventre, who heads the aerospace propulsion division of French conglomerate Safran. "It's the right time to be looking at the technology."

Redesigning airplanes

Airplane flies across a blue sky

The goal is to cut emissions in half

The program will encourage innovations in technologies such as wing design, quieter engines and better fuel consumption. The goal is to reduce carbon dioxide by 50 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent. Ideally, noise will also be reduced by 50 percent, Ventre said.

Aviation accounts for 4 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for global warming, according to the European Commission. Saab's President Ake Svensson said that the program would help reduce flying's carbon footprint and develop more "sustainable aviation."

The partnership currently has 54 aerospace industry members, 15 research centers and 17 universities which plan to collaborate on research and development.

Ventre said he was confident aerospace firms could come up with their 800 million euro obligation to funding the program.

"The commitments are there," Ventre said.

Intellectual property issues remain

Environmental activists dressed as polar bears

Climate change is at the top of the EU agenda

There are still important details that need to be worked out. Clean Sky's executive committee will have to agree on how new technology will be patented and how any revenue would be shared among the partners.

"The intellectual property rights issues are important for industry," said Svensson, of Saab. "We are investing our own money, so we want to be sure that we can use the technology going forward."

Saab will allocate 150 million Swedish crowns (15.9 million euros, $23.1 million) to develop a smart wing and green operations where Svensson said the focus is "not only about what you fly but how you fly."

Clean Sky is also seen as a way for the EU to compete with rivals such as the US, which started its first research and development policy in 2006.

In the past, the EU's involvement in aerospace financing has brought accusations from the US of unfairness. The European Commission noted that US public investments in the aviation sector were three times greater than in Europe.

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