The Germans did it years ago. Now the Dutch Finance ministry pushes plans ahead for introducing a tax on aviation. If done, it would severely impact cargo operations both in Amsterdam and Maastricht. Even worse, the latter may be forced to abandon the full-length use of its runway.
Taxing cargo carriers?
According to Rogier Spoel, air cargo advisor to the shippers and exporters’ organisation Evofenedex, the Finance ministry has been studying three scenarios for the introduction of an aviation tax. The first one - a pan-European regulation – has been shelved for the time being.
The other options are a €7 per passenger tax – excluding transit passengers – or/and a tax on aircraft. According to the calculations made by the ministry the passenger tax could yield some 175 million euros, 45 million short of the 220 million euro the ministry is counting on. “These 45 million euros should then be borne by the cargo carriers, which only make up a mere 3.5% of the total number of flights,” Mr Spoel says.
“As it is much more complicated to introduce a tax on cargo, taxing aircraft would be a viable alternative, so the ministry thinks,” Mr Spoel adds “The basis for the assessment of this tax would be MTOW of the aircraft. This may seem the most effective from the point of view of sustainability.”
A free ride for belly cargo
“The problem is that this MTOW (Maximum Take Off Weight) approach may not be that simple to assess”, he continues. “The newest aircraft like the B747-8F have a high MTOW, but they produce less noise and Co² emissions than the older B747-400s. Yet they would be taxed according to the same principle.”
Mr Spoel thinks that it will be very difficult to match the MTOW to the level of pollution and noise. Evofenedex also fears a mixed assessment system of individual passenger taxes on the one hand and aircraft weight taxation on the other.
“That would give belly cargo a free ride,” he says. “We also fear it would push even more cargo carriers out of the Dutch airports. We urge the ministry to go into a thorough study of the impact the taxation would have.”
Back to limited runway use at Maastricht (MST)
Since 1 April 2017 Maastricht Aachen Airport’s 2,750 m runway may be used at its full length, allowing the airport to accommodate larger and heavier aircraft. Before that date the use of the runway was limited to 2,500 m.
Last week the Minister of Infrastructure and Environment Ms Cora van Nieuwenhuizen put an end to this toleration policy, based on a decision of the Province of Limburg, which is also the owner of the airport. Apparently new methods for the calculation of the noise profiles of aircraft have revealed that the former methodology was tailor-made for passenger rather than cargo aircraft.
Impact on cargo hard to assess
The full-length use of the runway enabled MST’s management company TCGI (Trade Centre Global Investments BV) to attract more cargo business. In the light of the slot scarcity at Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport, MST and Ms van Nieuwenhuizen had also identified MST as a viable alternative to keep air cargo activities within the Netherlands.
The airport’s Managing Director Wiel Dohmen is cautiously optimistic. “At the moment we do not know yet when the reversion of the permission for the full-length use of the runway will come into effect,” he says. According to Mr Dohmen all scenarios – both optimistic and pessimistic - are possible. “New entry data will have to be brought in for the calculation of noise nuisance.”
Assessing the impact of a limited use of the runway on the operations of MST’s customers is not an easy thing to do at the moment,” he concludes. “It all depends on the type of aircraft and the length of the routes. Up to six hours should not pose any problems with the 2,500 m runway. After that, there is an unmistakable impact on the payload.”
Marcel Schoeters in Brussels