Fuelling sustainability by taxing aviation fuel

A group of young people have launched a European Citizens Initiative urging the European Union to remove the tax exemption on kerosene, which is used to make aviation fuel, thereby reflecting the truer cost of air travel on the environment.

Travelling by air from Paris to Porto takes only 2 hours and 20 minutes, and it takes less than three hours to reach Marrakech from the French capital. Looking further afield, you can reach the other side of the world in a day or less. Flying is cheap, easy, trendy and even addictive.

More and more people are flying. According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the number of airline passengers in 2018 increased by 6.1%, reaching a staggering 4.2 billion passengers. The change in travel within Europe is even more striking: over a period of just three years, air traffic and the number of flights increased by 21%. Unfortunately, air travel causes heavy pollution and CO2 emissions.

A plane emits 285 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per passenger per kilometre compared to 14 grams per passenger per kilometre for trains, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).  In aggregate, air travel is responsible for over 13% of  CO2 emissions from the EU’s transport sector and, if current trends continue, is expected to account for over 16% of the EU’s liquid fossil fuel demand by 2030.

The surge in commercial flights reflects not only the ongoing popularity of air travel but also a tax system, including no value-added tax on plane tickets, which favours aircraft over other modes of transportation. Moreover, airline companies and airports often benefit from government subsidies. All these instrument for making air travel cheaper make it difficult for the EU to reach its emission reduction targets.

“There is no tax on kerosene, that’s the main reason why flying is less expensive than trains,” explains Timothée Galvaire, a representative of the European Fuel Tax Initiative (EFTI).

The EFTI is demanding the introduction of a kerosene tax through what is known as a European Citizens’ Initiative, which enables ordinary Europeans to help shape the European Union’s policy-making and legislative process if they can gather a million signatures or more from several EU member countries.

Kerosene-based aviation fuel has been exempt from taxes ever since the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation entered into force in 1947. However, campaigners assert that the convention does not explicitly forbid the taxation of aviation fuel.

The petitioners propose that “kerosene tax should be regressive in order to incentivise even more consumers to use alternatives transport modes,” which, in practice, would mean that shorter flights would pay higher fuel tax, thereby making more sustainable modes of transport an attractive option.

The petitioners further stress that this fuel tax could reap additional benefits, such as helping accelerate the transition to cleaner modes of travel and fund research into alternative technologies.

“If the petition were to reach one million signatures, the European Commission will have to make a proposal, and this could be binding. It’s a great opportunity,” concludes Tassos Papachristou, who is also involved in the EFTI.

To sign the petition, click here.