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G8 wants tax on airline tickets to help world poor

Airline groups have condemned plans by the world's richest countries to impose a tax on airline tickets to fund extra money for poor African countries - and make a gesture towards fighting climate change.

Finance ministers from the G8 agreed at the weekend to look at using income from airline traffic to boost aid.

Although the tax might only amount to a few extra pence on a ticket, experts believe the move would be a major blow to cut-price airlines that sell tickets for as little as £1.

The move, which could add a pound on to air fares, was greeted with delight by environmental groups who said it was a first step towards making people pay the true cost of plane travel.

The plan emerged in the text of the communiqué issued after the two-day meeting in London but was initially overshadowed by the high-profile agreement by the G8 to wipe out $40bn (£22bn) of Third World debt.

The G8 backed a pilot project, led by France and Germany, for a "contribution of air travel tickets to support specific development projects."

Hans Eichel, the German Finance Minister, said: "The air ticket tax ... is now on the working programme of the G8. No one in the G8 has said anything against it."

Gordon Brown is understood to have consented to the new plan, seen as a sign of a trade-off in exchange for France and Germany dropping their initial opposition to the terms of his debt cancellation plan.

BA said the notion of the tax was "illogical". A spokeswoman said: "There is no justification for singling out airline passengers for an additional tax to fund development in the Third World."

She said it was hard to see why aid for small business in Mozambique should be funded in part by a family travelling from Glasgow to Malaga for a holiday.

A spokesman for easyJet said the proposal was "confused". "Why only target airline passengers - why not bus passengers?" he asked. "If you want to go after a particular industry why not go after the oil industry, where companies such as BP and Shell make record profits."

There would be no side-benefit for the environment as the tax would not give any incentive on people to alter their behaviour, he said. "Aviation could put hundreds of millions of pounds into the Treasury and it would have no impact on the environment."

Ryanair said it would "strongly oppose" anything that would increase charges for consumers.

But John Stewart, the chairman of Transport 2000, a pressure group, said the proposal was a step forward as the aviation industry was undertaxed.

"Aviation is a great contributor to global warming and it is African countries which will be the greatest sufferers from it," he said. "It seems there is a logic about a tax on aviation, which is a great polluter, to help those will be the top victims. It could be a Live Aid of the air."

The G8 also warned that "sustained high energy prices are of significant concern since they hamper global economic growth".

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