Ryanair's O'Leary says airlines are already paying 'penal' taxes for carbon emissions

Key Points
  • France wants a new tax on domestic and international air travel and some other EU countries are expected to follow suit.
  • Bosses of European airlines say carriers already pay enough and sorting out EU-wide air traffic control should instead be a priority.
A Boeing 737-8AS (EI-EBN) of Ryanair is taxing while a fuel truck refille another plane in Brussels-Charleroi Airport on July 8, 2019.
Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The bosses of Europe's biggest airlines have denied that their firms don't pay a fair share of tax on air travel.

Share prices of European carriers slumped Wednesday after France's transport ministry announced a new tax on domestic and international air travel that involves landing or taking off within the country.

The French government has been pressing the EU to take stiffer action against airlines and it is expected that the Netherlands will soon announce measures of its own.

Speaking at a press conference late Wednesday, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said there was a campaign of bias and misinformation around efforts by airlines and that carriers in Europe were not getting a "free ride."

"We are paying, on behalf of our customers, a penal level on aviation taxes," said O'Leary, speaking in his role as chairman of the lobby group A4E (Airlines for Europe).

The Ryanair chief said shipping accounted for more than double of global CO2 emissions, but plane operators were being unfairly maligned.

"Nobody runs articles saying let's tax the ferries and the boats. It is always 'tax the planes.'"

O'Leary said new taxes were regressive as they damaged free movement and peripheral European economies.

In 2018 A4E airlines paid over 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion) in aviation and environmental taxes to Brussels or individual governments.

Also speaking at the press conference was Willie Walsh, the CEO of International Airlines Group (IAG), the owner of British Airways.

Walsh addressed the fractured nature of European airspace as a key area in which carbon emissions could be reduced, calling for an overhaul to the bloc's air traffic control system.

"We could do it tomorrow, yet politicians have been discussing this issue for over 18 years. It is now time for action," Walsh said.

The executive said an integrated European air traffic control system would lead to quicker journeys, and fewer emissions with as much as 18 million tons of C02 removed from the skies each year.