Regional airports served 140 million passengers per year in 2019. A $10 per passenger eco-tax would have generated $1.4 billion for reinvestment in mass transit.
Remarks to Port Authority of NY&NJ, 11/21/19
Last month, I called upon the Agency to implement CORSIA1 guidelines to mitigate greenhouse emissions from air travel. Today I will expand on those remarks.
Europe Air Travel Taxes
Attached is an ICF study2 detailing European efforts to both manage the near-term effects of “flight shame” and reconcile the industry’s long-term growth with the goal of carbon-neutrality.3
France called an éco-contribution of €1.5 for economy class within the EU and up to €18 for business class flying outside. This eco-tax is projected to raise €160 million ($200 million) per year.4 The Netherlands, at the behest of industry, proposed to tax departing passengers €7.5
Broadly, European taxes on air travel comprise 3% to 14% of total airfares.
The ICF study compares eco-taxes to “sin” taxes levied on products like tobacco and alcohol. Their goal is to modify consumer behavior as well as offset incurred costs.
Each objective though, requires significant levies to be effective, partly because it takes a big financial hit to modify user behavior, also because remedial actions, like health care and education, are so expensive.
Eco-Taxes in the U.S.
The European model is workable in the U.S. and the PA is the logical candidate to administer it locally – it operates the region’s airports and can certify that the funds are directed to transportation.6
The NY-NJ Governors should be in favor. Each has committed to aggressively address climate change and has cash-strapped mass-transit systems for which they’re held accountable.
Carriers have traditionally opposed airport fees, but the growing threat to their businesses should change that.
JFK, Newark and Laguardia airports annually serve 140 million passengers.7 A $10 per passenger eco-tax would generate $1.4 billion for reinvestment in transit projects across the Port District – double the revenue generated by tolls across the George Washington Bridge.
Legally, the Agency is constrained how much it can levy in passenger facility charges (“PFC”) and for what purpose and it has been fined for “improperly subsidizing” non-airport-related projects.8 9
Unlike PFCs, however, the purpose of an eco-tax would not be to create infrastructure to encourage more flying. Rather to mitigate its impact on the environment. An eco-tax should be feasible if the PA prevails upon carriers to raise fares and then ring-fences the proceeds towards transportation.
Restrictions comparable to PFCs apply to air freight.10 But that industry will also be held to account for emissions generated by older, less efficient fleets, retired from passenger service.11 Certainly, FEDEX is the new poster child for non-payment of taxes.12
Awareness of aviation’s role in climate change is growing. The World Travel and Tourism Council designated climate change an existential threat to the industry.13 CitiBank projects that the cost to carbon-offset U.S. travel could rise to $3.8 billion per year by 2025 – for economy seats alone.14
Air carriers should be motivated to overcome their traditional opposition to airport taxes.15 But, whether or not the industry acknowledges it, climate change poses a fundamental challenge to its business.
The air travel industry cannot continue to externalize the costs of its carbon emissions without consequence. It must show that fees (profits) generated by flying reduce significantly more emissions than it generates. Otherwise, it faces a generational boycott16 and the degree of opprobrium now accorded to tobacco companies and, increasingly, to the oil industry.
Ultimately, federal legislation will be required. Climate change, a global problem, cannot be addressed by individuals or states alone. Carbon-efficient mass transit is an essential part of the solution, but new funding sources, such as eco-taxes are needed.
The Agency can play a major role in moving that agenda forward right now. It certainly has the mandate and the wherewithal. To quote former General Electric CEO Jack Welch: “Change before you have to.”
Delta and JetBlue announced programs to carbon offset all passenger travel.17 18
Lufthansa will offset corporate travel starting in 2020. And EasyJet, a British-based carrier serving the EU, now offsets all flights at an annual cost of $33 million. EasyJet flew 96 million passengers in 2018.19 20
1 “CORSIA”, Complete George, 10/19, https://tinyurl.com/s25x676
2 “Aviation taxes and their role in managing aviation’s carbon footprint”, ICF, 2019, https://tinyurl.com/y4ekc2tn
3 “There’s no way to ‘put a passenger jet on a long-distance flight without burning through 100 tonnes of fossil fuels.’ says Mike Berners-Lee, a carbon footprint specialist and professor at Lancaster University., Flight shame: Airlines are under rising pressure to cut their carbon emissions.”, Los Angeles Times, 8/28/19, https://tinyurl.com/y2rjej7t
4 “Economy class flights within the EU will be taxed €1.50. Business class flights out of the EU will have the highest tariff of up to €18. The tax is expected to raise $200 million per year after 2020., France plans ‘eco-tax’ for air fares.”, BBC,7/9/19, https://tinyurl.com/sesh3xs
5 “Flight-Shaming” Taxes: Climate Policy or Opportunism?”, Forbes, 10/29/19, https://tinyurl.com/sh2vg5j
6 “Restructure the Port Authority to Function as a Regional Infrastructure Bank,” “4th Regional Plan,” Regional Plan Association, 11/17, https://tinyurl.com/y6ake36l
7 “Port Authority airports set record of 137.9 million passengers in 2018,” northjersey.com, 3/21/19, https://tinyurl.com/y4jobqum
8 “Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) Program – Airports”, Federal Aviation Administration, https://tinyurl.com/skym9v7
9 “The FAA said there was no way to figure out how the Port Authority comes up with the fees it charges. Willis found “no established, consistent, clear and fully justified method of establishing the rate base on a predictable schedule.” United said the PA’s current rate formula results in fees that are 38 percent above actual costs. FAA Blasts Newark Airport for How It Charges Airline Fees”, Bloomberg, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/tsqwr9v
10 Federal Excise Taxes on Air Freight (A Twisted Logic Game), Wiley Rein, 2011, https://tinyurl.com/wwbwbwx
11 “Now entering their golden years, many of the remaining 640-or-so 757-200s are finding new homes as freighter aircraft., Amazon And Alibaba Save The Boeing 757”, Forbes, 4/2/19, https://tinyurl.com/up7xoq6
12 “How FedEx Cut Its Tax Bill to $0”, NY Times, 11/17/2019, https://tinyurl.com/v2gm2dw
13 “Changing climate could destroy industry, travel CEOs warned”, Travel Weekly, 9/26/19, https://tinyurl.com/wtngopy
14 “Flight Shame Predicted to Make Carbon Offsetting Big Business”, Bloomberg Environment, 10/23/19, https://tinyurl.com/w9kn2yv
15 “Five Reasons Airports Don’t Need A PFC Increase.”, Airlines for America, https://tinyurl.com/rzaelry
16 “I’d assumed that electricity and driving were my largest sources of emissions. Instead, it turned out that the 50,000 miles I’d flown that year utterly dominated my emissions., How Far Can We Get Without Flying?”, YES! Magazine, Spring, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/s3627lj
17 “Delta Air Lines CEO announces the carrier will go ‘fully carbon neutral’ next month,” CNBC, 2/14/20, https://tinyurl.com/yx4odvy4
18 “JetBlue plans to go completely carbon neutral on all U.S. flights,” Washington Post, 1/8/20, https://tinyurl.com/u8arynb
19 “EasyJet to offset carbon emissions from all its flights”, The Guardian, 11/19/19, https://tinyurl.com/wk5jtnm
20 “Can carbon offsets tackle airlines’ emissions problem?”, The Guardian, 11/19/19, https://tinyurl.com/rlksflz