Reacting to a new French “eco-tax” on aviation, European airlines said the environmental taxes they already pay could be better used to support the industry’s carbon-reduction efforts.

European airlines are set to pay over €5 billion ($5.64 billion) in environmental taxes in 2019, including €590 million through the European Union (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), industry group Airlines for Europe (A4E) said July 10, the day after French transport minister Elisabeth Borne announced a new eco-tax on flights departing French airports.

The tax will see €1.50 added to an economy-class ticket on domestic and intra-European flights, rising to as much as €18 on a business-class seat to a non-EU destination.

Aviation’s contribution to climate change is in the spotlight more broadly in Europe, with calls for a Europe-wide tax on aviation. 

The new French levy is “yet another unjustified tax on air travel” Ryanair CEO and A4E chairman Michael O’Leary said at press conference in Brussels, adding that, contrary to criticisms leveled against the industry, “aviation in Europe does not get a free ride” on taxes.

Ryanair paid €544 million in aviation and environmental taxes in 2018, with passenger duties making up a large part of that, and overall the airline’s passengers are paying more than 10% of their ticket price in environmental taxes, O’Leary said. 

He described additional aviation taxes as “a knee-jerk reaction that will undermine European competitiveness and particularly hurt the integration and free movement of EU citizens, especially for peripheral and island member states such as Ireland, Spain, Portugal and the Baltic States.” 

Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent of Aer Lingus, British Airways (BA), Iberia, Level and Vueling, also criticized the way existing taxes are used.

“Last year BA paid €850 million in air passenger duty. Not a single cent of that money went to improving the environment,” he said.

Air France said July 9 it “strongly disapproves” of the French eco-tax, which it estimates will cost the group €60 million annually. The carrier also said the government’s decision to use the tax proceeds to fund other modes of transportation, such as trains, rather than to support aviation’s sustainability efforts, was “incomprehensible.” 

A4E airlines are investing more than €169 billion in environmentally friendly technologies through 2030, including the purchase of around 800 fuel-efficient aircraft, which have reduced emissions 24% between 2005 and 2017, and over €1 billion in innovative partnerships designed to fast-track the production of sustainable aviation fuels in Europe, the group said.  

In addition to airlines’ own emission-reduction efforts, A4E said the global Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) will result in the mitigation of around 2.5 billion tons of CO2 between 2021 and 2035.

“The fact is, EU policy-makers have missed an opportunity to reduce aviation emissions by failing to reform the European sky or by making sustainable fuels sufficiently available for aviation,” A4E managing director Thomas Reynaert said. “Rather than introducing new taxes—which do nothing to make flying more sustainable—EU governments should recognize and support airlines’ sustainability initiatives with better research and development opportunities.”

Helen Massy-Beresford, helen.massy-beresford@aviationweek.co.uk