Dutch and Belgian transport ministers have spoken out in favour of abolishing the European airline industry's exemption from fuel taxes. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has responded quickly, saying that such a tax would do nothing to help the environment, as its supporters argue.

At a meeting of the European transport ministers in Brussels, the ministers defended proposals to end the the European Commission (EC)directive which exempts air transport from a fuel tax, on the grounds that air travel should be encouraged. A tax could be worth $10 billion. Owners of light aircraft, which are not covered by the directive, are charged around three times as much for their Avgas.

The attack on the exemption, which is timed to coincide with the Dutch presidency of the EC, suggests that airlines are being given an unfair advantage over other forms of public transport and questions whether air-travel growth should now be encouraged, given environmental concerns.

Europe's environmental lobby has welcomed the ministers' support, arguing that new commercial low-cost airlines are being helped by a tax break to mount a challenge to more "favourable" rail-transport systems, while contributing to pollution.

IATA director-general Pierre Jeanniot responded immediately, claiming that airlines are "doing their damnedest" to reduce fuel consumption, and that a fuel tax would in effect amount to a "self-defeating" economic penalty.

Source: Flight International