SAA targets EU travellers with ‘ETS surcharge’

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South African Airways (SAA) has said it will comply fully with the EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS), though it plans to offset the cost of the scheme by increasing fuel surcharges on flights to and from Europe.

The South African flag carrier will charge between €1-2 ($1.26-2.52) per passenger on flights to or from Europe effective 1 July, it says in a statement.

Announcing the surcharge, the airline echoed well-versed complaints from the so-called "coalition of the unwilling" - a grouping of more than 20 nations led by China, India and Russia - in alleging that that the ETS is an extra-territorial tax that violates national sovereignty.

"The EU effectively charges airlines on their emissions over the entire distance of their flight to and from the EU, regardless of the distance or portion of the flight in EU airspace," the airline notes.

"In the case of flights linking South Africa with Europe, only about 15% of the journey takes place in EU airspace - but the entire flight from Johannesburg will be taxed."

Chief executive Siza Mzimela adds that he supports the South African government's call for a two-year suspension of the ETS, which he says will allow time for a "globally acceptable and equitable solution" to be reached via the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

However, the EU has repeatedly voiced scepticism over the ICAO's ability or willingness to secure a global scheme, insisting that the body acted indecisively following the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which mandated it to find a solution.

Confirming SAA's compliance with the scheme, Mzimela says: "As a responsible airline we are taking steps to comply with the EU ETS, but we are doing this under protest."

Under the terms of the ETS, since January 2012 all carriers flying to or from the EU have been required to record their carbon emissions data. These figures are set against quotas determined by Brussels, with airlines expected to buy extra permits if they exceed their allowances.

The first payments will be due in March 2013, but ten Chinese and Indian airlines have already boycotted the scheme by refusing to submit data.