The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has issued a legal challenge to the new aircraft-emissions surcharges at Switzerland's Zürich Airport. The action is seen as a key test case for the legality of similar penalties proposed elsewhere in Europe.

Zürich became one of the first major airports to penalise aero-engine emissions when, in early September, it introduced a charging scale based on levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). Five bands have been laid down with as much as 40%above normal landing fees for those deemed to be the dirtiest aircraft.

Geneva is still drawing up similar rules, while Sweden, which was forced to abandon a tax on carbon-dioxide emissions when it joined the European Union, is also now preparing to introduce a new 0-30% charging structure based on NOx and VOC emissions.

IATA successfully challenged new noise penalties at London Heathrow earlier this year.

The IATA complaint also highlights the arbitrary nature of the charging system. Because of a lack of hard data, Zürich is imposing a 10%charge on turboprops.

IATA environmental co-ordinator Leonie Dobbie points out that NOx and VOC emissions are being "lumped together" for use in an environmental tax in a way not envisioned when the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) drew up emission standards for engine certification.

Zürich also has to show that it complies with ICAO rules under which airport charges should not be used to raise cash or distort competition. To offset the additional annual burden of around SFr4.5 million ($3 million), Zürich has lowered its overall landing fees by 5%and cut transfer taxes by more than one-third.

The structure also means that the airport's main carrier, Swissair, will be largely unaffected. Half of its fleet is made up of new Airbus A320/ A321s with CFMInternational CFM56-5B engines which will escape the surcharge.

The real penalties will be levied on aircraft equipped with older engines such as the Pratt &Whitney JT8D or JT9D.

Source: Flight International