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Putting the Brakes on Budget Airlines?

German politicians who focus on environmental issues have accused the popular no-frills airlines of dumping prices to attract passengers, all to the detriment of the environment. They want ticket prices to go up.


Critics of no-frills airlines want to take away the tax breaks they enjoy.

The environmental spokesman for the Green Party, Winfried Hermann, called the rock-bottom prices of the low-cost airlines a “scandal” for the environment, since they have drawn passengers from less polluting modes of transportation to airplanes.

He is in favor of introducing take-off and landing fees as well as “noise control” fees of up to €5 per ticket, saying they would reflect the “economic and ecological costs” associated with no-frills airlines. The parliamentarian also demanded the states and municipalities put an end to the practice of offering subsidies to regional airports which become hubs for low-cost carriers such as Deutsche BA, EasyJet, RyanAir, and Hapag-Lloyd Express, among others.

Hermann has been joined by politicians from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) who say the low-cost airlines, which offer tickets across Germany for as low as €20 ($22), enjoy an unfair advantage over other forms of transportation, such as rail travel, since they are exempt from VAT and fuel taxes and can charge significantly lower prices.

“This price dumping must come to an end as soon as possible,” Hermann Scheer, member of the SPD party executive, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. “The goal should be that flights within Germany are at least as expensive as the corresponding train trip.”

A traveller flying from Berlin to the city of Cologne in western Germany can, with some advance planning, get a one-way ticket on Hapag-Lloyd Express, a no-frills airlines for €19.95. The same trip by train would cost approximately €80.40.

Anti-No-Frills Campaign

The debate over the benefits and disadvantages of low-cost carriers comes just a week after several environmental groups in Germany introduced a campaign warning of the environmental damage resulting from increasing air traffic.

Hahn airport, hub to many of Germany’s budget carriers, saw a million passengers pass though its gates last year, an 81 percent increase over the year before. Hapag-Lloyd has estimated that between 5 and 6 million passengers fly no-frills every year.

Environmental groups say such air travel is a climate catastrophe in the making, since airplanes emit three times the amount of greenhouse gases that automobiles do. The no-frills travel boom, according to Germany’s green lobby, is the country’s “climate killer #1.”

No-frills carriers bite back

The low-cost carriers have come out against any new regulations that would force them to raise their prices and reject accusations of price dumping, saying tickets are priced according to the rules of market competition.

“It would be nice if German Rail would do the same,” Matthias Andreesen, spokesperson of the low-cost carrier Deutsche BA, told reporters.

Herbert Euler of Hapag-Lloyd Express defended the low prices as good for consumers and made possible through the pared-down business model that is the norm among the no-frills airlines.

“If politicians demand society become ever more mobile, then they have to allow this inexpensive form of transport that is good for consumers and good for the economy,” he told the newsmagazine Der Spiegel. While the criticism of the no-frills flyers is coming from SPD and Green politicians, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet has kept quiet on the issue. Government spokesman Béla Anda did insist that there are currently no plans for introducing new taxes on airlines. He said the ticket prices should be set by the laws of supply and demand and not imposed by government fiat.

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