Where Do You Fit Within the EU ETS?
The scheme may appear to be full of clauses, caveats and exceptions, and this is because it is. It was originally designed for fixed installations and now needs to cover all the different ways in which aircraft operate. Because of this, most people struggle to understand the scheme when they first look at it as it is easy to become blinded by trying to take it all in at once. In practice, however, if you identify what requirements the scheme places on your operation, and ignore the parts of the scheme which do not apply to you, the scheme becomes a lot simpler than it first appears. The first step to do this is to identify if you are covered by the scheme in the first place.
All flights which land or take off from an EU airport are covered by the scheme, with some exceptions. Commercial Operators who fly less than 243 flights in three consecutive 4-month periods, or emit less than 10,000t of CO2 annually. If exempted Operators are approaching these limits they may need to begin monitoring in case they go over the limit and are required to commence formal monitoring and surrender.
Non-commercial Operators are not exempt under these rules no matter how few flights they perform; however if they are below these thresholds, they are allowed to use a simplified method to calculate their emissions. There are other specific flights which are not covered by the scheme, such as certain public service flights, and details of these can be found in the 'Exemptions' section.
From 2013 onwards, they are raising the threshold for using the simplified method to 25,000t. This will have little impact on private operators, but commercial operators between 10,000t and 25,000t will be allowed to use these same simplified methods, however until them they have to monitor their emissions in line with the large emitters. This will have no impact on the exemption for commercial operators below 10,000t.
At this stage, if you are an Operator who currently operates in Europe, but have not submitted your monitoring plan, you have already missed the deadline. As this is a requirement of the scheme, you should check what member state you have been assigned to on a list created by Eurocontrol (note this might not be the member state you are based in). If you are not on the list, you need to contact the European Commission (here) as soon as possible, though the answer is usually to wait until the next list is issued each February - but will still expect you to monitor in the meantime. The purpose of the list is to assign Operators to Member States for regulation, not to tell Operators whether or not they are in the scheme. All Operators who are not on the list are responsible for getting themselves put on it if they fly in or out of Europe – and face penalties if they fail to declare the fact and are subsequently identified by the authorities.
The process (and charges) for submitting a plan vary from country to country. If you started operating after 2010, you are entitled to claim free allowances, from the 3% of allowances set aside for new entrants. To claim these, you must monitor your tonne-km data for a year, and have it independently verified. for most business operators this can be a bigger cost than the allowances are worth, and it can only be done within the first three years of a Phase (eg 2012-2014 of a Phase lasting to 2020).
The incentives for complying with the scheme are great, with the EC being able to impose an EU wide operating ban or seizure of an aircraft if an Operator fails to comply. Individual Member States have been given some freedom as to the exact penalties they can apply, so the fines do vary from country-to-country. There is one fine which is mandated across Europe of €100 per Tonne of CO2 for which allowances have not been surrendered before 30th April following the reporting year. Paying this does not remove the requirement to surrender the allowances, which the Operator must obtain before the next surrender date.
In addition to any financial or operational penalty, any Operator who fails to comply with the scheme will have their name published, potentially leading to loss of reputation.