It is high time that airlines are treated the same as other transport polluters, like rail and road transport. Taxes on tickets and kerosene should be introduced to this end and airlines must be covered by all measures contributing to climate protection. The French initiative to tax air tickets is the first small step to establish parity in the way the different modes of transport are regulated.
This time last year, there was considerable momentum for ending the special status enjoyed by airlines. EU-wide air fuel taxation seemed a real prospect, buoyed by efforts to raise funding for development projects. Furthermore, airline companies had finally conceded that flight emissions should be covered under the Kyoto Protocol. However, despite all the positive signals, there has been little concrete progress in the past year, with France's ticket levy being a rare exception. With the inactivity and reluctance of national governments and the Commission, and continuing lobbying from the aviation sector to avoid regulation, political action is as badly needed as ever.
The aviation industry pleads that, coupled with constantly rising oil prices, new taxes and levies would threaten its existence. However, given airlines can offer journey prices up to three times below those of their competitors in the rail sector, this plea rings a little hollow. A more honest and realistic assessment of the state of the aviation sector is necessary.
All industries are faced with the problem of high oil prices, here the aviation sector is not alone. The price of oil has tripled in the past ten years and is set to continue rising. This, coupled with the need to combat climate change, has led to the recognition that we need to reduce our oil dependency. There are clear signs that the automobile industry is looking at alternative technologies to reduce oil use, however there is little perceptible progress by airlines in this direction.
Despite its undeniably negative impact on the environment, air transport receives a sizeable amount of indirect subsidies, for example the lack of taxes on kerosene fuel or cross-border airline tickets. These exemptions go some way towards explaining how airlines can offer considerably better prices on domestic and intra-EU-destinations than railways, which are faced with taxes on energy and diesel, as well as on the tickets they sell. These kinds of indirect subsidies of airlines must be ended. Introducing a tax on the currently tax-free kerosene fuels in every Member State would be a positive political step in the right direction.
Greenhouse gas emissions from airlines are rising rapidly, air traffic is destroying the ozone layer in the stratosphere. Therefore it is unbelievable that the aviation sector is completely exempted from international efforts to combat climate change, such as the Kyoto Protocol. Airlines have a large part to play in climate change: 5-12% of emissions in the EU come from the aviation sector, a proportion that is growing rapidly: Between 1990 and 2003, air transport emissions increased by 73%, corresponding to an annual growth rate of 4.3% per year. If no action is taken in the field of air traffic, progress by other industries to limit the greenhouse gas emissions will be undercut. The aviation sector must be included in an emissions trading scheme. Thankfully, airlines have conceded that they should pay their share of the climate-bill and have agreed to the inclusion of air transport in the Protocol. The scope for this has to be wide however. Any emissions trading scheme should cover all flights, as well as all kinds of greenhouse gases.
The French levy on air tickets, although only a small step, is symbolically important, as it finally brings airlines into the taxable domain. Hopefully, it marks the start of a real move to make the aviation sector accountable for its impact on the environment.