Fly for the right price

Strohalm, an environmental group, launches a campaign to tax corporate flyers in the Netherlands

By Hans Buitelaar
Published: Saturday 15 May 1999

Fly for the right price

Dutch citizens pay flight-tax<
have enormous fiscal benefits, because they don't have to pay excise on kerosene, let alone a levy on carbon dioxide ( co 2 ) or nitrogen oxide ( no x ) pollution by aircraft. Therefore, the real costs of flying must be paid, says Nannie van Vliet, a campaigner with Strohalm, an environmental organisation in Groningen, the Netherlands.

To put an end to the unfairness in the transport sector, Strohalm introduced the "flight-tax in companies" campaign on February 17 in the west European country. For every ticket bought, the buyer has to pay an extra 17.5 per cent (the amount of tax on consumer products in the Netherlands) of the ticket-price to a fund. So far, nine Dutch companies have signed the contract to raise flight tax voluntarily. Since the tax does not have to be paid to the state, the companies deposit the money with their own fund, from which they can invest in environment-friendly energy resources for the company.

The aim of the campaign is to make the government aware that a large number of people are willing to pay these taxes, says van Vliet. In 1995, Strohalm started a flight-tax campaign for individuals. From the tax fund, solar collectors have recently been bought for an orphanage.

Strohalm was started in early 1980. One of the aims of Strohalm is to reform the tax-structure. It suggests more taxes on the use of natural resources and energy, and less on labour.
Making a pact "Countries commit themselves to reducing air pollution at international climate conferences. They cut down on the use of cars and electricity, but do not question the ever-growing air traffic. Air travel causes between 8 to 15 per cent of total co 2 pollution," says van Vliet. "In this campaign, we want the Dutch government and the European Council to know that companies want their government to treat airlines the same way railroad or other freight-companies are treated -- even if they have to pay for it."

Two banks, two travel-agencies, an electricity company, a fair-trade organisation, an investment company, a political party Partij van de Arbeid ( p vd a ) and an environmental organisation, Friends of the Earth, Europe, were the first to join the campaign. They have signed a contract declaring that they will collect "tax" money for each airline-ticket they buy. The money that is collected will be invested in "green" energy resources for the companies themselves, or it will be used to support European actions and lobbies to reduce pollution.

Says Han Hoogvliet of Max Havelaar, the fair-trade organisation, "By participating in this campaign, we want to show that companies and organisations are prepared to pay more for flying if that helps to raise money to fight air pollution." Each year, the organisation spends about us $20,000 on tickets, which translates to $3,000 flight tax. This money will be used to fund the campaign.

Triodosbank, which is also participating in the campaign, had been monitoring Strohalm's actions for some time. When Strohalm started a flight-tax campaign for individual travellers, the bank encouraged employees to join in the project. After Strohalm started the campaign for companies, they decided to take part. From the tax money, Triodosbank hopes to buy a solar-power installation for their office. "As a bank we want to invest in 'green' energy resources, but only if it is financially beneficial," says Triodosbank spokesperson Thomas Steiner. In the rainy Dutch climate, the high price of a solar-power installation does not make it profitable, he explains. "But since we are making a fund out of the flight-tax money, we feel we can invest in it."

Political support for aviation taxes is also growing. The participation of p vd a , the biggest political party in the Netherlands, illustrates this development. "We want to see aviation-taxes raised at an international level," says John Huige, member of p vd a . Party officials spend about $16,500 on airline tickets every year. The estimated $2,500 tax money will be invested in an east-European environmental project.

Now that flight-tax is becoming a political issue, the long term goals -- introducing fees for the right to land at airports, pollution taxes for flying over countries, among other things -- might be met within years.

Hans Buitelaar is a freelance journalist based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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