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Delay Possible on Quiet Plane Rule

March 26, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said today he is optimistic the European Union will delay an aircraft engine rule that has caused much trans-Atlantic acrimony and is slated to be voted upon next week.

The proposed rule would crack down on planes with engine mufflers known as hush kits. EU officials contend that while reducing noise pollution, the kits are ineffective at controlling pollution. As a practical matter, the rule’s biggest impact would be on American airlines and equipment suppliers.

Speaking from London after a week of meetings with his European counterparts, Slater also said he hopes the United States and Britain will resume negotiations about unrestricted aviation between the countries. Previous talks ended abruptly last fall.

``I think that the progress that has been demonstrated with the `open skies’ agreements with Germany and throughout Europe are steps and efforts they’ve been taking note of,″ Slater said.

Slater said the details of new negotiations may be resolved next month when Britain’s deputy prime minister, John Prescott, visits the United States.

A Commerce Department official has said the hush-kit rules, with final European Union action scheduled Monday, could have a $1 billion effect on the United States. It would devalue airplanes in the U.S. fleet, often resold in Europe, and harm hush-kit makers, all of whom are American companies.

Urged on by environmentalists, the EU’s European Parliament voted in February to adopt a rule prohibiting registration in Europe of aircraft outfitted with the hush kits after April 1.

Another rule would ban hush-kitted aircraft registered elsewhere from flying in European skies as of April 1, 2002, unless they were operating there before the start of next month.

U.S. officials say the proposed rules are arbitrary, because the modified airplanes meet new noise limits, known as Stage 3, established by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization.

The House approved a bill this month that would ban the Concorde, the noisy European supersonic jet, from flying in U.S. skies if the hush kit rules are approved.

During his tour, Slater met with EU Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock; Michael Daerden, the Belgian minister of transport; and Jean-Claude Gayssot, French minister of infrastructure, transport and housing, among others.

``We are now at a point where we can say we have some positive indications that the commission will delay the regulation that’s before them in order to address some of the serious concerns we’ve put before them,″ Slater said.

Ella Krucoff, spokeswoman for the European Commission’s Washington delegation, refused to predict the outcome.

``We have to wait until the meeting,″ she said. ``There’s no way to forecast the meeting.″

Meanwhile, the potential for talks about a new trans-Atlantic aviation agreement contrasts sharply with the situation last October, when negotiations over an ``open skies″ deal collapsed after only three days.

Under the current aviation treaty, known as Bermuda II, only two U.S. carriers _ American Airlines and United Airlines _ are allowed to fly into London’s Heathrow Airport. The airport is especially popular with business travelers because it offers the most connections to international points.

Under an open skies deal, an unlimited number of carriers could serve any U.S. or British airport.

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