What is airport tax used for?

Since a very large sum of your ticket goes to airport tax, I was wondering how do they justify it and what is it used for?

Take your tax paid on your ticket and multiply it with the number of seats on that airplane and you realise that, per flight, the airports are receiving a substantial amount.

Is it all going to the government?

This question is very 'general' and just to get a loose idea of what the tax goes for. To get detailed information of every country is unnecessarily complex.

• @ratchetfreak but is that the 'tax' though? Mar 13 '14 at 9:13
• How about Air traffic control? I can imagine that will cost quit a lot of money. Mar 13 '14 at 9:17
• My guess would be that what airport tax money is used for varies considerably depending on which airport in what country is being talked about. Also, what all does one consider a tax. Are landing fees a tax, are fuel surcharges taxes, are bribes to local officials in third world countries to be considered a tax? Mar 13 '14 at 11:28
• As @Terry points out, this can not be answered without knowing what part of the world you are asking about. Please edit your question to let us know what country you are asking about. Mar 13 '14 at 12:00
• @voretaq7 Why did you edit this to add the "usa" tag? The asker gave no indication that they meant to restrict the question to any specific country. Jul 1 '14 at 6:29

As jwenting pointed out, there isn't one "airport tax" - there's a whole bunch of them, and they're not all taxes (some are "fees").

Broadly the taxes you're paying on airline tickets break down into two categories:

Taxes that fund the Airport and Airway Trust Fund
These taxes pay for Air Traffic services (a little under half the operating butdget for ATC), maintenance of the airway infrastructure (radio navigational aids, RADAR sites, etc.), research and development to improve the airway infrastructure (e.g. NextGen), and to fund the Airport Improvement Program (which provides grants to airports, mainly to implement safety improvements).

The actual tax categories themselves break down further (again, airlines.org's breakdown is excellent).

Fees that fund DHS programs
These are often called "security taxes", and include things like the "September 11th fee", APHIS fees (for inspecting plants and livestock), and customs/immigration charges.
Note that all of these are technically fees, not taxes -- these are only levied when a flight is using the services the fee is funding (or at least that's what's supposed to happen. In practice the airline is responsible for paying the appropriate fee as a cost of doing business. They can recoup that cost any way they'd like (typically they lump it in with "taxes" or itemize it out on the ticket rather than including it in the base fare, so they can advertise lower base fares).

What about the little planes?
General aviation doesn't pay "ticket taxes", but that doesn't mean they get to escape paying for the infrastructure the flights are using. The government recognizes that the air traffic system costs money, and they like to ensure that the money is available.
Accordingly there is a tax levied on all aviation fuel purchased in the US:

• Airlines currently pay about $0.04/gallon in taxes for the jet fuel they burn • Non-Airline flights burning jet fuel pay about$0.22/gallon in taxes (the higher rate making up for the other taxes they're not paying)
• Piston-powered planes burning aviation gasoline pay \$0.19/gallon in taxes
(higher than what the airlines pay for jet fuel, but lower than the standard jet fuel tax because piston planes don't travel as far, and are thus less of a burden on the air transport system)
• Also note that airport taxes aren't the only fees you'll pay - many airports have landing fees, ramp fees, terminal fees, etc. which are levied by the local airport authority / operating agency. For example, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has a published schedule of fees and charges for aircraft landing at JFK. These fees go to the Port Authority Mar 13 '14 at 17:26
• Note that, in the UK, it's illegal to advertise a fare that doesn't include all the taxes, fees and other things you can't avoid paying if you want to buy the ticket. Various budget airlines have a habit of getting into trouble, in this respect. Mar 13 '14 at 17:26
• @DavidRicherby If only the US would adopt such sensible advertising laws. Around here very few advertised prices include taxes (and many don't include fees either). SURPRISE! :-/ Mar 13 '14 at 17:27
• Actually, they do. The DOT passed a law last year requiring all taxes and mandatory fees to be included in the advertised ticket prices. Mar 13 '14 at 19:33
• I didn't think the US did this either, but just confirmed it with four different carriers. All taxes and airport fees are now included in the advertised price, and baggage and other fees are prominently linked. Very cool. Jul 1 '14 at 12:33

Assuming the question was referring to the US airport market, where indeed a big chunk of the airport fees are indeed taxes, here's their composition according to Airlines for America:

There are many things which together make up the 'tax' listed on your ticket. And depending on the airline this may or may not be honest; many use the term to bulk up the final price from the list price (and then advertise the list price of course). For example, a "fuel tax" is a sum the airline adds to counter changes in fuel price from the moment the ticket price was set to the moment you board the flight. And the "security tax", were that really a tax, then why do different airlines charge different amounts for the same departure/destination pair? There might be a tax component in it, but it's massively padded by the airline itself (and most of the rest will be not tax, but contract fees with their contractors).

Of course some countries do charge taxes, but those are usually collected directly and not as part of the ticket.

Airports may be managed by private entities (even private security agencies) and then airports themselves are expensive to maintain, so apart from leasing its space for shops/eateries etc, they charge every passenger a tax which they collect from each airline. Its the duty of the airline to collect taxes and reimburse it to the concerned authority (whether private or government but probably government).

But all "taxes" on the ticket are not taxes; as jwenting pointed out, the yq (or yr) component on the ticket is actually a "tax" levied by airlines at their discretion and is called fuel surcharge. Other "tax" components may be an ROE (Rate Of Exchange) component which helps airline absorb fluctuation in currency (if they are operating in the country having different currency from theirs).

If it is genuinely a tax, it goes to the government. Other countries may be different but, in the UK, all money that the government receives from taxes goes to a central fund to be spent wherever it's needed: there's no mechanism for, say, the money from aviation-related taxes to be reserved for aviation-related spending, such as ATC.

Fees and surcharges are different and may go to the airport, the airline or whoever else charged them.

In the US, you can see most airports income, by going to the FAA site: http://cats.airports.faa.gov/Reports/reports.cfm. This lets you see the breakdown by year, and revenue sources and costs. Form 127, contains the most detail in the data available there. Running, modifying, and just maintaining an airport, is very expensive.