Taxing question for Walloon airports

  • The government miscalculated; the tax will only bring in half of what it hoped
  • The list of complaints is growing, with unions joining regional airports and airlines in condemning the tax

The €3 tax charged to passengers passing through Walloon airports continues to raise eyebrows and indignation. “The Walloon government is shooting itself in the foot!” exclaims Eddy van de Voorde, expert in transportation economics from the University of Antwerp in the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper. “With Ryanair’s arrival, unemployment dropped in the Charleroi area. The government is threatening this success in order to make a little money via an additional tax. If transporter activity lessens, the Walloon government won’t enjoy this money for long.”

On the other end of the scale, Setca (FGTB employee and manager union) slams the tax as well as the airports minister, André Antoine (CDH) who is suspected of having brought in the airport tax “like a poisoned apple in fairy tales”. It is worthwhile bearing in mind that the minister was a great opponent of a tax on airline tickets when it was proposed at the federal level. In any case, “Who’s going to foot the bill?” inquires the union. “The citizen, as usual,” it says. A lot of concern is brewing regarding jobs. “We know that the Irish company is completely capable of making good on its threat, and worse, it’s not the only one to allude to it. Jetair and Thomas Cook have also put Charleroi and Liège on notice, and that’s just for starters!” This leads to the conclusion, “Will the region guarantee jobs at both airports if, as we fear, we can expect negative consequences?”

Better yet, there is still uncertainty as regards the tax calculation. We still don’t know how much it will raise (an overwhelming majority of tickets are purchased over internet), nor how much it will bring in. It seems more and more likely that the government has significantly miscalculated how much the tax on passengers will really fetch. The government’s calculations clearly show an annual revenue of €20 million. This is credible when one multiplies 6.8 million passengers registered in Charleroi in 2012 (6.5 million) and Liège (300,000) by the infamous €3. The problem with this is that the yearly airports’ passenger statistics naturally count the arriving as well as the departing passengers. This logically translates into a relation of about half in each direction.

The rules of common sense and international rights only allow taxation on departing passengers. The airline tickets include the airport taxes for each passenger upon departure. There does not exist anywhere in the world an arrival tax. The €3 tax thus can only bring in €3 per departing passenger, or a little more than €10 million. Where will the extra €10 million come to fulfill the planned revenue in the government’s expert calculations?

The idea that the ministers and experts miscalculated on such a crucial item shows, at the very least, real ignorance regarding the airline and airport industries. It’s highly unlikely that the government will take responsibility for the error.

ÉRIC RENETTE

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