The environmental issues related to the presence of an airport in a given area are often in the spotlight, given their importance and huge impact on the ecosystem and the population.

The extent of noise generated by aircraft depends on different factors, including, inter alia, the architecture of the airspace (i.e. the take-off and landing routes of an airport), the operational procedures adopted to follow the assigned routes, aircraft emissions, the engine test and the nuisance caused by connection means and induced road traffic.

In Italy, the matter is regulated by numerous orders setting out the main courses of action:

  1. characterising the land surrounding the airport by identifying 3 areas, defined as A, B and C, subject to specific restrictions in their intended use;
  2. setting noise limits to be complied with by the infrastructure in each area;
  3. applying a specific method to measure air transport noise;
  4. setting, for each airport, anti-noise procedures to be followed by aircraft during landing and take-off as well as during ground operations;
  5. implementing and managing an airport noise monitoring system to ensure compliance with limits;
  6. limiting night-time air traffic;
  7. imposing the implementation of improvement measures.

It is precisely in this context that “IRESA”ß, the Italian regional noise emissions tax for civil aircraft, should be framed.

Basically, IRESA is a special purpose tax introduced in 2001, aimed at reducing noise pollution in airport surroundings.

The tax is imposed on airlines taking off and landing at and from civil airports situated in the Regions’ territory.

The tax base is set according to the number of landings and take-offs as well as according to aircraft weight and noise based on International standards on noise certification. The tax is based on aircraft noise emissions and its amount varies according to the extent of such emissions.

The amount due is calculated by tons based on landings and take offs over a three-month period. Revenues from IRESA are – or should be – expressly earmarked for the implementation of extensive noise monitoring and acoustic depollution systems, the general improvement of living conditions in the areas affected by airport operations and any compensation for people damaged by noise emissions caused by aircraft landing and take-off.

IRESA has recently been in the spotlight again as a result of a ruling made by the Provincial Tax Tribunal (First Division) of Rome on 16 December 2016 in case No. 28862 on a tax refund claim filed by a private air operator.

In particular, the Commission found that Lazio Regional Law No. 2/2013 – by which IRESA was introduced in Lazio – is clearly in breach of Law No. 342/2000 as well as of Legislative Decree No. 13/2005, implementing Directive 2002/30/EC.

More specifically, under the above-mentioned national and EU provisions, the receipts from said tax should be allocated to the management and reduction of the social costs associated with aircraft noise emissions (e.g., airport monitoring systems). The tax judges however found that the Lazio Region, considering there was no restriction in terms of allocation of the tax, used the tax proceeds for its own financial needs rather than for the purposes for which the tax was introduced. Only 10% of IRESA was indeed allocated to the environmental and social purposes identified at national and European level.

The reason for this is that IRESA, despite being a regional tax, was introduced by national and EU laws, whose purposes and objectives must always be complied with and pursued.

Acknowledging the Lazio Region’s failure to comply with said principles and objectives, the Tax Tribunal ordered the disapplication of the tax and the cancellation of the challenged payment notices.

Now, it is clear that any airline company operating in the Lazio Region might start a procedure for disapplication of IRESA based on the above decision.

If the view of the Tax Tribunal of Rome were to be confirmed, the Lazio Region would certainly be compelled to significantly redesign its budget policies. When one considers that, from 2013 to date, 90% of the proceeds from the tax were allocated to different purposes (such as the regional health service) and that the estimated revenues from IRESA were calculated at 55 million EUR from 2014, the calculation is soon made.

The same can be said for other Regions, which, despite applying the tax, held themselves not bound by any obligations in terms of its allocation and thus acted accordingly.