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Blair rules out cheap-flight tax

Tony Blair said yesterday [8/2/05] that it was electorally impossible to “slap” taxes on cheap flights to curtail rising airline pollution as Britain expanded its airports.

From The Times, 9th Feb

Tony Blair said yesterday [8/2/05] that it was electorally impossible to “slap” taxes on cheap flights to curtail rising airline pollution as Britain expanded its airports. The Prime Minister said that “facing a potential election” he preferred to encourage scientific advances to make travel more fuel-efficient.

Speaking at the liaison committee, a group of senior MPs who are all select committee chairmen, Mr Blair challenged them to say if any believed it was possible with an election looming to increase air fares. Mr Blair said: “Hands up round this table how many politicians facing a potential election in the not too distant future, who would vote to end cheap air travel?” Seeing no arms at first, Mr Blair said: “Right – none”.

AEF comments

It is disappointing to the AEF that the Prime Minister chooses to totally disregard this option. The Government’s preferred option of including aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme cannot be delivered until 2008 at the earliest and will, even then, exclude emissions on all flights to and from non-EU destinations. His arguments can be challenged in several respects:

A tax or charge would not mean the end of cheap flights. Proposals made by organisations such as the AEF and Airport Watch are that a levy could be introduced gradually and would probably be offset by the continual fall in air fares in real terms. Such a charge would nonetheless make a huge difference to the sector’s environmental impact in the future.

No explanation is given at why it is politically acceptable to have high taxes on cars, petrol and other goods, yet not on flying.

There is no expectation that “scientific advances” will address the problem. Best estimates are that technological and operational improvements will increase fuel efficiency by between 1 and 2% pa. This will not offset the increased environmental impact due to the growth in air travel at around 5% pa.