UBA presents concept for environmentally acceptable aviation

Adjust taxes, reduce noise, promote rail and climate-friendly fuels

passenger planeClick to enlarge
Aircraft emissions are particularly harmful to the climate
Source: Eray Haci Osmanoglu / Fotolia.com

The German Environment Agency (UBA) is presenting a new vision for sustainable aviation which reduces the pressures on the climate, environment and people as much as possible. The proposals made include an adjustment of the sector's tax contributions to match the other transport sectors, noise quotas for airports, a modal shift of domestic flights to the railways, and the promotion of climate-neutral fuels. UBA President Maria Krautzberger said: "Flying is the most environmentally harmful mode of transport. We want to reduce the number of flights by shifting to the railway but also to diminish the environmental impact of flying as much as possible. An important first step is to adjust the tax contributions of the aviation sector to those in the rail and automotive sectors. Aviation has been taxed at about one tenth the rate of what other modes of transport pay. The cheap ticket for city sightseeing is massively subsidised." In 2017 alone, the state lost 8.1 billion euros in lost revenues from kerosene taxation, and 4.2 billion euros due to the VAT exemption on international flights.

The German Environment Agency's proposal is to double aviation tax, at least temporarily, and to raise it by 2030 in order to offset the shortfalls in tax receipts resulting from the VAT exemption of international flights. Current revenues from aviation tax amount to about 1.2 billion euros. UBA's proposal thus corresponds to an aviation tax increase by a factor of roughly 3.5. This amounts to about 150 euros in tax on the fare for a long-haul flight instead of the 41.49 euros charged at present. A further proposal is to reform distance classes and to establish a system more in line with the "user pays" principle. If air fare tax were graduated on the basis of how much noise and emissions the aircraft produces, the cleaner and quieter aircraft would prove more economical. UBA also suggests the introduction of a national kerosene tax that is expanded to apply throughout Europe by 2030.

The concept envisions CO2 pricing in aviation that is anchored in European emissions trading. The requirements should be tightened up by 2030 by reducing volumes of emissions in accordance with climate change goals and rescinding the allocation of emissions allowances to air carriers. Further climate effects of aviation that are caused by non-CO2 emissions at cruising altitude must also be included in the emissions trading system.

Direct CO2 emissions of aircraft can be reduced to zero with Power-to-Liquid (PtL), a kerosene substitute produced with green electricity and CO2. In order to bring these e-fuels to market quickly, UBA envisions government funding for the development and testing of installations in Germany and abroad. Furthermore, an admixture ratio of sustainable PtL in Europe would foster quicker market entry of these fuels. Funding would come from an innovation and demonstration fund for the aviation sector to be established for this purpose. Ms Krautzberger said: "Money for the fund can come from the higher revenues from aviation and kerosene tax as well as from emissions trading. However, the fund should be used to promote alternatives to flying – after all, less air travel is the best help for the environment and climate."

Low-polluting aviation considers both climate change mitigation and systematic noise mitigation in particular. UBA proposes a combination of environmentally sound airport and flight route planning and a imposing noise quota on individual airports. Maria Krautzberger said: “Airport location planning in the future must be more strongly controlled by the federal government. This would result in ensuring for example that airports are expanded for night-time flight operations in sparsely populated regions and that regular flight operations at all airports located near urban areas could be suspended between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. to protect the population against noise pollution." Noise quotas for daytime flight operations would ensure a decline in noise pollution despite a growth in aviation.

The best alternative to flying within Germany and to neighbouring countries is rail travel. The UBA concept envisions that rail connections between densely populated areas will improve by 2030 so that journeys are no longer than four hours and thus make flying unnecessary. A shift from short haul flights to the railway will free up capacities at airports and also make their expansion unnecessary. Maria Krautzberger said: "By 2050, the rail network in Germany is so well developed that all commercial flights between German airports and conurbations have been replaced by the railway. This is also the case for many shorter international flights. On longer flight routes, a combined train/air ticket makes travel to the point of departure by airplane or private car redundant." Freight traffic will also benefit from an efficient rail network. By 2050, fast freight trains travelling at night will replace national cargo flights.

Umweltbundesamt Hauptsitz

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau

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