Switzerland’s parliament has voted in favour of introducing an environmental levy on airline tickets.
The Swiss federal assembly says 135 of 195 members approved the proposal, which last year received support from a “large majority” in the nation’s lower chamber, the council of states, following “worldwide climate protests”.
A similar proposal had been rejected by the federal assembly in late 2018.
Under the new plan, passengers are to be charged between Swfr30 ($31) and Swfr120 per ticket “depending on distance and [travel] class”.
The federal assembly says “nearly half” of the proceeds will flow into a climate fund for emissions-reduction initiatives, but has yet to determine how this will be used as details of the plan are “controversial”.
Swiss regional carrier Helvetic Airways says it is “basically not opposed” to an environmental tax in principle, but argues that it should be applied at European or global level.
“This is a clear distortion of competition since the foreign airlines with only few departures from Switzerland will not pass on the tax,” argues the Zurich-based airline.
Citing the coronavirus crisis and airlines’ liquidity problems, it complains that the new tax comes “at the worst possible time”.
However, the airline doubts that the new tax will deter customers from booking tickets: “A tax on flight tickets between Swfr30 and Swfr120 is far too low to discourage the Swiss population from flying, even over short distances.”
Lufthansa subsidiary Swiss meanwhile voices concern it will be “penalised twice”, as a long-haul operator with a hub in Zurich, if the levy is based on flight length and travel class. “Direct long-haul flights will be disadvantaged because it will then become more interesting for a passenger to fly a short distance [abroad] and pay a correspondingly lower levy to a foreign hub,” Swiss suggests.
Noting that the measure applies to airlines rather than passengers, Swiss – like Helvetic – foresees that international carriers with limited flights from Switzerland will absorb the levy to attract passengers to their hubs abroad.
“Since the main production of Swiss airlines takes place in Switzerland, Swiss airlines are disproportionately affected,” says the Lufthansa unit. “Only if the passengers are directly liable to pay the levy, and not the airlines, can market distortions be mitigated.”
Swiss also asserts that “in global air transport, only global measures will benefit the climate and at the same time… not distort competition”.
Article updated on 12 June to add Swiss’s comment