EU unveils strategy for greener aviation

Commission promotes charges, will act alone if no global agreement by 2001

The EU will introduce environmental charges on air transport unless agreement can be reached on global measures by 2001, the European Commission said today. The pledge is a central plank of a 5-year strategy to mitigate the "unsustainable" effects of aviation, unveiled by transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio.

The strategy identifies fiscal instruments as a key policy option to reduce the impact of air transport. The aim is to "expose Europe's air transport system much more to a system of 'reward the best, punish the worst'", it says. Three types of environmental levy are suggested: a surcharge added to flight ticket prices, an "en route" charge based on distance flown, and a take-off and landing charge.

The EU favours a world-wide agreement on future charges through the international civil aviation organisation (ICAO), the UN body which administers the planet's skies and is working independently on policy options. However, the document warns that unilateral action is likely if no progress is made: "policy action is urgent... and the European Community may have to act... in case ICAO fails to modernise existing rules," it says. The EU wants to see introduction of charges at the next ICAO assembly in 2001.

Action is necessary, says the strategy, because the trend of increasing emissions from the aviation sector is "unsustainable and must be reversed because of its impact on climate and the quality of life and health." It points to a recent report which showed that the sector's carbon dioxide emissions were growing at 3% annually and that it may account for as much as 15% of global warming in fifty years' time.

Although it does not commit the EU to any particular charging option, the document singles out "en route" charges as a "promising technique". Under this scheme the charge paid by an aircraft operator would depend on both distance flown and average emissions per kilometre.

Finally, the report confirms that the EU will not be pushing for the introduction of aviation fuel taxes, an option strongly opposed by ICAO.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. Reference: "Air transport and the environment: towards meeting the challenges of sustainable development".

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