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article imageOp-Ed: France plans an 'ecotax' on most air travel starting next year

By Ken Hanly     Jul 11, 2019 in Travel
France plans to charge an "ecotax" on almost all air travel starting next year. The new tax is expected to bring in approximately $200 million a year. The funds could be used for less polluting means of transportation such as trains.
Transport minister's statement
Elisabeth Born, the French transport minister said on Twitter that the tax was in response to a sense of crisis in the environment: “With the eco-contribution, air transport will play its part in financing the daily transport of all our citizens. It is a response to the ecological urgency and sense of injustice expressed by the French.”
There are some exceptions to the tax
The tax will not apply to connecting flights or flights that just land in France except for those that originate in France. Any trips to the island of Corsica and French territories overseas are also exempt from the tax.
Cost of tax varies with distance traveled and type of ticket
The price of a domestic flight could rise by as litte as 1.5 euros or about $1.70. However the tax for a business-class ticket bound out of the EU would cost 18 euros or about $20 more.
Airlines react angrily
Air France said that it strongly disapproves of the tax. Air France said that the new fee would cost its combined airlines more than $67 million annually. The airline said: “This new tax would significantly penalize Air France’s competitiveness, at a time where the company needs to strengthen its investment capacity to more rapidly reduce its environmental footprint, notably as part of its fleet renewal policy."
At a press conference in Brussels
Ryanair head Michael O'Leary claimed that the airline industry was doing well towards meeting its responsibilities to the environment: “We are sensitive to the criticism that we are getting a free ride on the environment because frankly it is not true. We have a very good case to push back against these NGOs like the flight shame movement because actually this is an industry that is performing remarkably well and meeting its obligations towards a greener, cleaner planet."
O'Leary spoke as chair of the lobby group A4E (Airlines for Europe), that includes that EU's largest airlines. The group claims that aviation has roughly halved the carbon footprint per flight over the past three decades and is spending billion of euros on more fuel efficient aircraft and is investing in less damaging aviation fuel technologies.
Other countries have also taxed air travel
Germany has a green tax that according to Deutsche Welle adds between 8 and 45 euros or $9 to $50 dollars to ticket prices. Sweden also announced a similar flight tax in the spring of last year. In Europe there is a "flygskam" movement which loosely translated means "flight shame" that has attracted a great deal of attention.
US not as likely to introduce an airline ecotax
A flight tax in the US might not be politically possible. Europe has an extensive rail passenger system that provides travelers with options other than driving or flying that are more efficient but the US has fewer options in many places.
Seth Kaplan an airline expert told the Washington Post: “One thing that’s different in Europe is that rail is a viable alternative today; for a lot of people, that’s not the case in the US. A reason why you’re unlikely to see US airlines doing this in any kind of big way is that in the US, what’s the alternative?”
What is an ecotax?
Wikipedia explains: "An Ecotax (short for ecological taxation) is a tax levied on activities which are considered to be harmful to the environment and is intended to promote environmentally friendly activities via economic incentives. Such a policy can complement or avert the need for regulatory (command and control) approaches. Often, an ecotax policy proposal may attempt to maintain overall tax revenue by proportionately reducing other taxes (e.g. taxes on human labor and renewable resources); such proposals are known as a green tax shift towards ecological taxation. Ecotaxes address the failure of free markets to consider environmental impacts.[1]"
While such taxes help solve environmental problems they can be regressive that is their impact can be greater on those who are poorer and less on the rich. In the case of ecotaxes on air travel some argue that air travel is mostly of the rich. Most poor people cannot travel.
This ignores the fact that air travel has become more within the reach of the lesser well off. Often immigrants and others who come from foreign countries will save to fly back and visit relatives. Other people who are not that well off save their funds to fly to vacation areas. Airlines encourage people to fly by frequent flyer plans. All this is negative to the flying shame climate protectors. Yet they are doing nothing to prevent those most well off from flying. They just have to pay more which they can afford. Those who are only marginally able to afford flights are deprived of what they had just newly come to enjoy and which improved their quality of life.
Further remarks
The situation is complicated by the difficulties of measuring the effects on the environment of different modes of travel and the complicated situations that people face. If a person wants to travel a long distance often over oceans, there is no practical alternative to air travel very often. Why should people who fly long distances be subject to larger ecotaxes when there is no option?
Driving is often an option to air travel in many cases but it may not always be better for the environment than taking a plane. A person driving a large vehicle alone to a destination may be contributing more pollution than if the same person had taken a plane. On the other hand if that same person also transported several friends and in a hybrid car the trip would have contributed less pollution per person.
It should be noted that aviation back in 2015
contributed only eight percent of the pollution due to transportation in the US. Most of the pollution comes from light vehicles 59 percent and medium and heavy trucks 22 percent. The switch to EV's would save the environment much more than cutting down on use of airplanes. I noticed that in discussion of the aviation issue, the emissions caused by the military do not merit a mention but presumably they contribute high amounts of pollution.
While driving is usually an option to taking a plane it may not always be better for the environment, as descirbed in an article by Yale Climate Connections: "One of the few researchers trying to make a straight, consistent comparison across the U.S transportation sector is Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. In working papers released over the past two years, Sivak has attempted to overturn the conventional wisdom: His main recent finding is that the average energy intensity of driving is about twice that of flying, a conclusion based on the current average on-road fuel economy of cars, pick-up trucks, SUVs, and vans (21.6 mpg)."
Comparing different effects on the environment from different modes of travel is complicated, making it quite easy for those with interests in proving aviation is a huge culprit to use selective research to prove their position. An article written some time ago sums up the problem: "In 2009, Mikhail V Chester and Arpad Horvath of the University of California, Berkeley, published an influential analysis arguing that any assessment of passenger transportation impact needs to also include infrastructure and life cycle emissions — from maintenance of roads and airports to the manufacture of planes, trains and automobiles, along with other machines and physical structures that support particular transport modes."
The options for travelers remain difficult, and the entire picture of emissions from transportation has yet to be properly indicated.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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