THE Orient Airlines Association (OAA) will hold an environment conference next May, but some of its members have been pioneering the ''green'' cause for some time. Probably no airline has led Cathay Pacific Airlines and Japan Airlines (JAL) in the field, with Cathay, for example, having a full-time environmental officer, Sheila Wong. All areas of the company's activities are being examined in areas ranging from aircraft engine emissions and noise pollution to the use of plastic disposable cups. The airline has had a paper recycling scheme for some time at its main offices near Kai Tak airport and is said to be saving the equivalent of 250 trees a month from the 15 tonnes collected. The proceeds, about $4,000 a month, are donated to a green cause. Cathay also uses heavy duty metal pallets in its cargo holds instead of wooden spreader boards, and in-flight service staff have stopped using plastic bags for the collection of towels and linen from the aircraft. Passengers receive duty-free items in recyclable shopping bags. The airline's 25 per cent owned Hongkong Aircraft Engineering Co (HAECO) has reduced noise pollution at Kai Tak by fitting a silencer on its maintenance plant engine test bed. In August, Cathay will sponsor 30 Hongkong children and their parents for an educational tour of the rain forests of the Malaysian state of Sabah. The airline already has sponsored the planting of several hundred thousand trees in Australia, and in Hongkong has an annual environmental awareness competition to solicit green initiatives. Meanwhile JAL, using one of its Boeing 747s, has started collecting high-altitude air samples over the Pacific in a five-year international joint study programme to measure the impact of the greenhouse effect. The samples will be analysed by the Japanese Meteorological Agency to find levels of atmospheric pollution caused by such gases as carbon dioxide and methane. The airline is also testing a 747 freighter with a polished aluminium skin, unpainted apart from the airline's name and logo, to evaluate the environmental benefits of using unpainted aircraft fuselages. Engineers expect to take three years to complete the experiment. By not painting the plane there is also a weight saving of about 150 kilograms on the overall carrying capacity of a Boeing 747. This represents a saving of up to 200 drums of fuel a year, based on daily utilisation of 10 hours. This is little in overall terms, but at least a step in the right direction. Meanwhile Air New Zealand has invested US$35 million in revolutionary hush-kit technology for its engines while Qantas, with one of the youngest fleets in the world, is at the forefront of technology with cleaner and more fuel-efficient engines. Next year's conference, titled Economics and the Environment - The Airline Management Challenge, to be held in Kuala Lumpur, reflects the increasing importance that OAA members are attaching to environmental matters. Apart from inviting speakers from across the aviation industry, the OAA also will be inviting speakers from the car, rail, oil and food processing industries. The aim, said a spokesman, was for delegates to benefit from the experiences of other industries when planning their own environmental strategies.