EU draft exempts private jets, cargo from jet fuel tax

  • Market: Emissions, Oil products
  • 06/07/21

The European Commission has proposed exempting private jets and cargo flights from the planned EU jet fuel tax. A draft indicates that the tax would be phased-in for passenger flights, including ones that carry cargo.

The draft, which the commission will on 14 July present with its proposed revisions to the bloc's 2003 energy-taxation directive, indicates there could be an exemption from taxation for energy products and electricity used for intra-EU air navigation of cargo-only flights. It proposes allowing EU states to only tax such flights either domestically or by virtue of bilateral or multilateral agreements with other member states.

The commission is worried that taxing fuel for cargo-only flights would adversely affect EU carriers. Third-country carriers, also with a significant share of the intra-EU cargo market, have to be exempted from taxation due to aviation services agreements, the commission argues.

Private jets will enjoy an exemption through classification of "business aviation" as the use of aircraft by firms for carriage of passengers or goods as an "aid to the conduct of their business", if generally considered not for public hire. A further exemption is given for "pleasure" flights whereby an aircraft is used for "personal or recreational" purposes not associated with a business or professional use.

Non-governmental organisation Transport & Environment (T&E) called the proposal "generally good".

"The downside, though, is the commission is considering exempting cargo carriers that are often US-run," said its aviation director Andrew Murphy, who noted "multiple" solutions for taxing jet fuel used by cargo carriers that "tend to use older, dirtier aircraft".

In May, Murphy co-authored a report indicating that private-jet CO2 emissions in Europe rose by 31pc between 2005 and 2019, with flights to popular destinations up markedly during summer holiday seasons. He has argued for a fuel tax for this "leisure-driven" private jet sector.

Airlines for Europe (A4E) fears that setting minimum tax rates for intra-EU flights could lead to distortion of competition. The industry association, which counts 16 airline groups as members including Ryanair, Air France/KLM, Lufthansa, IAG, easyJet and Cargolux, indicated that the commission's proposal could lead to aircraft deliberately carrying excess fuel bought outside the EU specifically to avoid the bloc's jet fuel tax.

Airlines should not pay extra under the revised energy taxation directive when they are already paying for CO2 under the EU's emissions trading sytem (ETS) and participating in the International Civil Aviation Organisation's Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (Corsia).

More generally, the commission sees collection of aviation fuel tax as not problematic, with fuel suppliers collecting it and transferring to relevant tax authorities. The commission estimates the administrative cost of this at 0.65pc of revenue.

The draft may change before 14 July, and does not contain the all-important annexes with tax rates. To enter into force it must be approved by all 27 EU member states, and it may change markedly over the coming months. A commission proposal made in April 2011 to update EU energy taxation rules failed after finance ministers could not agree by unanimity in 2014.

The commission wants to align energy taxation with EU climate goals, meaning that taxes should be based on the net calorific value of the energy products and electricity and that minimum levels of taxation across the EU would be set out according to environmental performance and expressed in €/GJ. These minimum levels should be aligned annually on the basis of the EU's harmonised index of consumer prices, excluding energy and unprocessed food.

Next week, the commission will propose changes to the EU's emissions trading system (ETS). A draft of these did not detail how aviation will be treated, but no free allocations are envisaged for maritime, road transport and buildings sectors. Officials will also present the commission's mandate for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), whereby all firms could be expected to fill up with blended jet fuels at EU airports.


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