Leading members of the Northern Ireland business community have urged the chancellor to make an early decision on the controversial issue of aviation tax.
Top executives from more than 20 firms have sent an open letter to Chancellor George Osborne as it emerged this week that Continental’s service between Belfast and New York had been crucial to helping one of Northern Ireland’s biggest companies expand its business.
Craigavon based pharmaceutical giant Almac said Continental’s daily service played a significant role in helping the company decide where to locate its new facility in North America.
However, it has emerged that the service is in danger due to the air passenger duty (APD) hikes introduced by the Treasury last November.
Almac said that if the airline decided to withdraw the route, it would have a major impact on its business in terms of time lost travelling to Dublin or London notwithstanding the additional cost implications.
A levy of £60 is being imposed on each US-bound passenger travelling from Northern Ireland — compared to a EURO 3 charge from Dublin airport — which the American carrier is currently absorbing at huge cost.
A consultation aimed at examining the existing air tariffs closed in June and a government response is expected in November.
In their letter to the chancellor, the business leaders say the critical issue of APD must be addressed urgently. “It is imperative that a structure is put in place, arising from the recent APD Consultation, whereby we are initially enabled to safeguard key air routes and subsequently broaden our reach. The air route between Belfast and New York is an essential piece of connectivity which must be maintained.
“We urge you to make an early decision on the question of Air Passenger Duty, and help to give tangible effect to the rebalancing of the Northern Ireland economy.”
The letter also underlines the importance of strategic air routes to the province’s economy.
It says: “Northern Ireland is a peripheral region, and given our location on the western edge of the European continent, the strongest possible range of air access is vital for the positive development of the regional economy. We urgently need this matter to be addressed. As business leaders we are asking for the necessary tools to be made available which will enable us to compete globally, on an equal footing.”
The main signatory to the letter is Francis Martin, president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, while 22 business chiefs from 20 leading firms in Northern Ireland across a range of sectors have also put their name to it.
They include NYSE Euronet; Belfast International Airport; George Best City Airport; Wrightbus; Allstate Northern Ireland; Bombardier Aerospace Belfast; B/E Aerospace (UK) Ltd; NI Public Sector Microsoft; First Derivatives plc; Moy Park Ltd; Liberty Information Technology; Lightstep Technologies; Ulster & London Ventures; The President’s Club; NI Independent Retail Trade Association; Barrhead Travel; Europa Travel NI Ltd; Selective Travel Ltd Belfast; Oasis Travel; Continental Airlines.