By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -France will seek support from other European Union countries for a minimum price on flights in Europe in a bid to reduce the aviation sector's contribution to climate change, Transport Minister Clement Beaune has said.
The move, if approved, would hit airlines offering super-cheap fares. But it may struggle to win sufficient support among EU countries, which include island nations that rely on air transport, and regions with tourism sectors buoyed by low-cost flights.
France's aim is to "open the debate on the fair social and environmental price of a flight ticket," Beaune said in written comments.
"It's not a question of multiplying by ten the price of tickets. Why? Because there are also people who take a plane once in their life, who don't have much money - it's also a freedom, a means of transportation that can't be reserved for only the rich," he said.
EU officials told Reuters countries including the Netherlands and Belgium support the idea in principle. Austria had previously proposed a minimum price, but faced legal complexities to take it forward, EU officials said.
"I think it's a discussion we have to have at EU level," Beaune said.
Winning broader support could prove challenging. Talks among EU countries on aviation fuel taxes have hit an impasse, with some governments opposed to passing measures that could raise prices for voters ahead of EU elections next year.
The EU has some measures to curb the environmental impact of flying. European flights will pay a higher price for their CO2 emissions in the next few years, under the EU carbon market.
A minimum ticket price could disrupt the business model of carriers like Ryanair, which offers super low-cost fares on some routes within Europe. Ryanair did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ryanair closed its two-aircraft base at Brussels' Zaventem airport during last winter, blaming increased charges and taxes, after Belgium introduced a 10-euro tax per passenger on flights shorter than 500km, and a two-euro levy per departing passenger on EU routes.
Some industry groups have opposed the idea. In a letter to EU countries last week, Airlines for Europe said a minimum price would breach an EU law that allows airlines to freely set their prices.
"We do not support initiatives that would violate the established rights under EU Law of airlines," they said in the letter, seen by Reuters.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett, additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)