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German Ministry Calls for End to Airline Subsidies

The increased damage to the environment caused by frequent air travel needs to be reflected in higher prices for tickets and an elimination of subsidies for jet fuel, says the German Environment Ministry.


Air travel creates high costs for the environment

A study published this week by the Federal Environment Ministry in Germany focuses attention on the "external costs" of frequent air travel. According to research gathered by a team of scientists, air transport results in several negative side-effects such as increased levels of carbon dioxide emissions and noise pollution, all of which result in additional costs for communities located near airports. But because these damages are not figured into the overall costs of a plane ticket, there is very little incentive for the aviation industry to reduce the impact it has on the environment.

Up until now external costs such as those arising through health problems caused by air pollution and noise irritation or a decrease in property values have all had to be carried by the community, says Andreas Troge, President of the Federal Environment Ministry (UBA). The airlines themselves do little to contribute to lowering these costs, Troge stated at a press conference prior to the release of the study.

On the contrary, the German aviation industry currently enjoys a special status within the transport sector, profiting from subsidies on jet fuel and tax abatements for profits made on international flights. The total cost of the subsidies for the tax payer is around seven billion euro annually, Troge says. And no other sector has similar benefits – car drivers, for instance, are taxed heavily each time they go to fill up at the local gas station.

For this reason Troge and his office are calling for an increase in ticket prices and an end to all aviation subsidies.

A cheap ticket is expensive for the environment

Although consumers may appreciate them, the advantages of cheap ticket prices offered by discount airlines such as Ryanair and the upstart German Wings are far outweighed by the damage done to the environment. The "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" newspaper in Cologne, whose airport was recently expanded to make room for several discount carriers, points out that the "freedom over the clouds is not without its limits" and that the government needs to keep in mind not only "business regulations but also ecological requirements."

According to the UBA study, the external costs to the environment for a 500-kilometer flight (approximately the distance between Munich and Berlin) with a fully-booked 100-seat plane is about 10 euro per passenger. For a long distance flight over 6,000 kilometers (Frankfurt to Chicago), the environmental costs for a fully-booked 400-seat plane is 43 euro pro passenger. The costs are based on the amount of fuel burned in flight, the length of the contrail the plane leaves and the amount of noise it creates during take off and landing.

In order to carry the cost of damage to the environment, airlines would need to increase their prices by about 20 percent, especially on the cheap long-distance flights, the study says. This is not a popular option, as many airlines fear losing passengers at a time when the economy is drying up. But Troge’s office says doing so would force the public to be more conscious of the amount of environmental damage caused by air travel and encourage people to look for alternative means of transport wherever possible.

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