Stealth tax stalks UK airspace users

Mine is not intended to be a party-political blog but it’s sure going to sound that way this time.

When a specific government decides on a course of action that is a fundamentally bad idea, and the proposed policy is also part of an established behaviour pattern that everyone associates with it, I suppose any opinion against the proposal is going to sound party-political.

Here we go then: the UK government is going to tax use of the aviation and marine radio spectrums for the first time in history. Or at least it will if it is not persuaded to think again by highly cogent argument in sufficient volume from the industry and elsewhere before the comment deadline on 30 October.

The particular behaviour pattern that everybody in the UK associates with the present Labour government led by prime minister Gordon Brown – and before him by Tony Blair with Brown at his side as chancellor of the exchequer – is the application of ”stealth taxes”. The UK Office of Communications (OFCOM), a government agency, says it is not proposing a tax on aviation’s radio spectrum use, but a charge called an “administered incentive pricing” (AIP) scheme. To quote the Association of European Airlines’ secretary general Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, “an AIP is a euphemism for a tax”. He argues that the money will disappear anonymously into government coffers and not be used to benefit aviation or research into improved spectrum use.

The radio spectrums affected for aviation include the frequencies allocated for HF, VHF and UHF radio communications by airlines, general aviation and the military; radar surveillance by airports, air navigation service providers and military aviation, navigation aids from Loran to the instrument landing system, and datalink communications ranging from automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B) to airborne collision avoidance systems (ACAS) and controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC).

OFCOM argues that “AIP is intended to apply market disciplines to the holding and use of spectrum rights, by requiring users to consider their spectrum needs in light of the AIP fees payable.”

But why do other countries not choose to charge for these safety-sensitive services? 

Never mind, maybe we don’t need to worry because OFCOM says: “We are inviting views on whether charities whose objective is the safety of human life in an emergency should receive a discount.” Yes, but it’s still a charge, and the government’s coffers still benefit.

When I spoke to OFCOM they used, as a justification for extending spectrum charges to aviation and marine operations, the fact that the police and ambulance services already pay an AIP for them. That’s not a justification, it’s an indictment of the system. They should not be paying an AIP – the charge should be removed.

Those who use the spectrum directly for commercial purposes, like the television, radio, and telecommunications industries, should rightly be charged. Those who use it purely for ensuring safety should not.

The whole issue smells of stealth taxes, greed and immorality, and instinctively makes me wonder what service they will hit next with a money-grabbing scheme.  



One Response to Stealth tax stalks UK airspace users

  1. James Page 21 September, 2008 at 4:01 pm #

    I’m sorry but the mystery is not why should aviation be charged but how have they got away without paying for so long ?

    It’s about 7 years since telecoms etc started to pay market rates for spectrum, and the intention has always been that aviation would also pay when Ofcom got round to it. That’s only fair. For aviation it may very well be needed for safety reasons, but so are the brakes on my car but I don’t expect them to be free.

    In fact the government had said a couple of years ago that they expected to start charging for aviation radar by this year, but the new consultation document is now talking of further delay until 2010.

    I do agree though that there should be a debate about whether the police and ambulance service (on land on in the air) etc should be competing with each other for spectrum.

    James Page
    (and yes I am employed in the telecoms industry, and also belong to a political party that believes that aviation should pay for their infrastructure – tangible or otherwise!)