WASHINGTON, D.C. — General aviation pilot who fly frequently to Europe are finding problems that can make flying expensive, as well as more difficult, and are raising questions about just how much United States aviation should be controlled by other nations.
The newest problem is a European court’s ruling on Dec. 21, 2011, that a plan by European regulators to tax carbon emissions from aircraft using European airspace must apply to all operators, regardless of where those aircraft are based, including the U.S. The court’s ruling came after a legal challenge questioning whether the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) was applicable to aircraft based in the U.S.
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) was a party to that suit. Emission taxes are levied over the entire route of the flight, not just the part that uses European airspace. This means that any flight from the U.S. must pay the tax from takeoff in the U.S., across the Atlantic, to its point of landing in Europe.
The rule went into effect Jan. 1. U.S. airlines have been fighting the controversial rule, claiming the added expense will cost them $3.1 billion between 2012 and 2020.
NBAA’s president and CEO Ed Bolen says the court’s decision to permit the taxes to go into effect goes against established policy and long-standing practice when it comes to regulation. He notes that such issues are a subject for the International Civil Aviation Organization, an arm of the United Nations. ICAO, which has been working to develop standards for aviation emissions, issued a statement last November urging the European Union not to include flights by non-EU operators in the Emissions Trading Scheme.
The U.S. government also has stated its objections to the move by the European Union. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood have warned that the U.S. might be compelled to take “appropriate action” if the scheme goes through. Other nations also oppose the new rule. China, India, Brazil, Russia, and 21 other governments joined the U.S. last September in saying that the unilaterally imposed measures of the EU were inconsistent with international legal regimes.
The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a bill prohibiting U.S. airlines and general aviation from participating in the EU-ETS if it is unilaterally imposed on them. A similar measure is in the Senate to be acted on.
A group of aviation interests sent a joint letter to the Senate urging action on the bill, which was introduced by Senator John Thune (R-SD). That letter held signatures of almost all of our country’s aviation interests. In addition to NBAA, the letter was also signed by the leaders of the: Aerospace Industries Association, Airlines for America, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, American Society of Travel Agents, Cargo Airline Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Global Business Travel Association, International Air Transport Association, Interactive Travel Services Association, National Air Carrier Association, National Air Transportation Association, Regional Airline Association, and the U.S. Travel Association.
Besides deep concerns about paying unilaterally-imposed taxes, the organizations fear that this action by a single group that affects all aviation could set a precedent that could be imposed on other aviation actions and be adopted by other nations.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.