U.S. challenges “odious” German air tax

A few weeks ago in this space we denounced, for the umpteenth time, the loathsome Air Passenger Duty that the British government imposes on airlines and their passengers. Since then, Airlines for America has turned the spotlight on another odious European levy, the German Air Transport Tax.

This one has been in effect since the start of 2011, but U.S. airlines, which have been paying under protest, just got around to challenging it in a German court.

The German tax is lower and less illogical in its application than the British tax, but it’s 45 euros, or about $59, for every passenger departing a German airport for the U.S. (Arrivals aren’t taxed.) For flights within Europe, it’s eight euros.

We wouldn’t mind a tax on air travel if the revenue went to government programs that support air travel, such as the U.S. taxes that finance the air traffic control system and infrastructure grants. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The tax revenue isn’t paying for control towers or runways.

And though the tax was initially styled as an environmental tax, it appears that the revenue isn’t buying windmills or biofuel either. It’s going into Germany’s general treasury.

The airlines argue, “Germany cannot arbitrarily close its budget gap on the backs of the U.S. airlines and their passengers who already pay taxes at excessive rates. This is a short-sighted cash grab.”

At some point as the court case proceeds, we expect the airlines will invoke the Chicago Convention, the revered global treaty that, since the 1940s, has provided the legal framework for international aviation.

Every country that signed it, including Germany, agreed that “no fees, dues or other charges shall be imposed … in respect solely of the right of transit over or entry into or exit from its territory of any aircraft … or persons or property thereon.”

In other words, don’t tax air travel just because “it’s there.” This principle is as valid today as it was when the nations of the world agreed to it 68 years ago.