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Airlines add $3 fee for passengers between U.S. and Europe

January 06, 2012|By Hugo Martin
(Getty Images )

It looks like the new European plan to limit airline emissions will cost U.S. travelers to Europe a few bucks.

The plan to impose strict emission limits on planes flying in and out of Europe took effect Jan. 1, and Delta, United and American airlines, as well as US Airways, have already added a $3 surcharge for flights between the U.S. and Europe. It is a move industry analysts see as a way to offset the emission plan's financial impact on the airlines.

But that is only part of the fallout from the new emission plan.

A trade group for Chinese airlines has threatening to withhold emission data from European officials in protest of the plan. Chinese government officials, however, said they would be wiling to discuss a resolution with the Europeans.

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, launched the emission plan in 2005, first targeting utilities and manufactures and more recently adding airlines. Starting Jan. 1, greenhouse gas emissions from airlines are capped at 97% of their average 2004-06 levels and 95% in 2013.

The emissions are calculated by the distance planes fly in and out of Europe and their payload. Airlines that don't use all their emission allowances can sell the excess to those carriers that exceed the limits. The cost for violating the plan is 100 euros, or about $142, for every ton of greenhouse gases that airlines emit above the limit.

A trade group for U.S. airlines, which challenged the plan in court, estimated that it will cost the nation’s airlines $3.1 billion through 2020.

Representatives for the airlines that added the $3 surcharges said federal pricing rules prohibit them from discussing the reason behind the new charge. But industry analysts say the charge is clearly designed to offset the emission plan.

Environmental groups that support the emissions plan say airlines can avoid paying any emission taxes by  flying more efficient planes or buying allowances from other airlines. “The plan has lots of wiggle room,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund.

She also wondered why airlines have already started to collect surcharges on flights to Europe without knowing how much they will pay in emission taxes. Petsonk also added that “$3 per ticket is lost in the noise of all the other charges they have.”


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