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EU Approves Irish Air Tax Exemption

Monday, July 17, 2017

The European Commission has concluded that an exemption for transfer and transit passengers from the Irish air travel tax (ATT) was in line with EU state aid rules.

Ireland's ATT was reduced to a zero rate in April 2014. Previously, the ATT had been levied at a headline rate of EUR3 (USD3.44) per passenger departing from an Irish airport. A EUR2 rate applied where the flight was to a destination not more than 300km from Dublin airport.

Departures of passengers in transfer or transit were exempted from the tax.

Following an in-depth investigation, the Commission has now concluded that the exemption was in line with the underlying logic of the Irish ATT, which was to tax journeys by air originating from Ireland.

The Commission said that if a passenger transfers or transits in Ireland, they are on a single journey from their airport of origin to their airport of destination; they are not on two separate journeys. It added that the exemption prevented such journeys from being subject to taxation twice, both at the airport of origin and at the airport where the transfer or transit took place.

The Commission also determined that a tax system aimed at taxing journeys by air, instead of individual flights constituting such journeys, did not in itself induce undue discrimination among airlines.

The regime was introduced in March 2009. That July, airline Ryanair filed a complaint with the European Commission. Among other criticisms, Ryanair claimed that the non-application of the ATT to transit and transfer passengers constituted unlawful state aid. It said this was to the advantage of Aer Lingus and Aer Arann, because these companies had a relatively high proportion of passengers and flights in those categories.

In 2011, the Commission found that the exclusion of transfer and transit passengers did not result in state aid. However, in November 2014, the General Court of the European Union ruled that the Commission should have initiated a formal investigation procedure, to gather relevant information on the measure's compliance with EU rules. As a result of this judgment, the Commission opened an in-depth investigation in September 2015.