Nothing extraordinary happened when Han Fuzheng, a lawyer from Hebei Province, bought a round-trip air ticket last March. Hainan Airlines issued him the tickets between Beijing and Haikou, Hainan Province, but the fare contained an additional 100 yuan (US$13.5) charge levied as airport tax.
Han asked the General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC) to refund his tax payment.
The tax claimed for airport construction has existed for more than a decade despite suspicious buzzes from the public concerning its legality. Spearheading the challenge to question the legality of the levy, Han sued the airline watchdog in June of this year.
Han's case has lasted for over five months and is still pending further hearings from the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court. At present the court hasn't yet decided when to hold their next session.
"The lawsuit aims to curb charges imposed by the airport on passengers claiming construction costs. The levy has no legal grounds," said the attorney. Airports began charging 15 yuan per passenger for the construction of security facilities in 1992. In 1995 the price surged: 300 percent (50 yuan) per passenger on domestic flights and 500 percent (90 yuan) per passenger on international flights. In 2004, airline companies in lieu of the airports began levying the tax as an additional surcharge placed directly into the ticket price.
In Han's case, the CAAC argued that the tax approved by the State Council was levied to provide government funds. They requested that the court reject the appeal.
Han disagreed with the argument. "The airport tax was levied before the ratification of any laws concerned. It infringes upon individual property rights protected by the Constitution."
Zhao Zhiquan, a member from the National People's Congress, agreed with Han. "If the airport construction fee is levied as a tax, then the bureaus concerned should state how the tax has been spent; if the charge is treated as a kind of donation, then passengers can have an option to pay it or not; if it is an investment, passengers should get a return on their money. But the problem is that passengers have never known why they should pay this charge."
Although the prosecution revealed a big legal loophole regarding administrative charges, Han does not adamantly wish for victory in his case, the China Economic Weekly reported recently. "My appeal aims to propel the country to enact a law that would regulate various cradle-to-cave administrative charges,"the lawyer said.
Experts apart from the pioneering Han also feel a tingle of anticipation for such a law that would curb rampant charges issued by various administrative bureaus. According to Hu Xingdou, a professor of economics from the Beijing Institute of Technology, since there is a lack of supervision endorsing the bylaws, various governmental bureaus breach their administrative rights to expand charges and raise prices arbitrarily.
In 2005, administrative charges hit 400 billion yuan, in addition to the more-than-200-billion in general funds raised by the governmental departments.
(China.org.cn by Wu Jin December 2, 2007)