UK Government must scrap air passenger duty

Air connectivity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and beyond, is critical to the economy and never more so than now, as we focus on the recovery.

By Gordon Lyons, Economy Minister
Tuesday, 31st August 2021, 6:00 am

Good air links facilitate both business and leisure travel and are part of the lifeblood of any strong economy.

As Minister for the Economy it is my responsibility to maintain and enhance Northern Ireland’s air connectivity, both domestically and internationally.

Northern Ireland is inherently much more dependent on air connectivity than the rest of the UK, because we do not have the same rail and road options available to us.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons with Katy Best, commercial director, George Best Belfast Airport

That is why I firmly believe the UK Government must scrap the Air Passenger Duty (APD) that is applied to air fares between NI and GB. It is my view that APD is an unfair tax that should be addressed at a national level, as it has a particularly detrimental impact on NI passengers, due to our physical remoteness to mainland Great Britain and the lack of viable alternatives by either road or rail.

It has a direct negative impact on our inward tourism from GB and on business travel in both directions.

The impact of APD on our economy has not only been made worse by the profound economic impact inflicted by Covid-19 but is further exacerbated by the fact that the Republic of Ireland has no equivalent APD on either short haul or long haul flights.

The removal of APD was also a key request from industry representatives during the Department for Transport’s Aviation Expert Steering Group process (which ended in August 2020). My recent engagements with the local airports have only reaffirmed that view.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons with Graham Keddie, managing director of Belfast International Airport

I continue to strongly lobby HM Treasury to have APD removed. I have also robustly raised my concerns with the head of the UK Government’s Union Connectivity Review, Sir Peter Hendy, in a recent meeting with him. I am hopeful we will see some positive movement on the issue in the near future.

To help further stimulate and enhance our domestic air connectivity, my Department’s NI Domestic Aviation Kickstart Scheme (NIDAKS) is making around £4.5million available to support airlines to help kickstart NI’s economic recovery from Covid by maintaining and enhancing routes between the three local airports and GB.

NIDAKS is part of my Department’s Economic Recovery Action Plan (ERAP) and was developed with input from the aviation industry. It has been warmly welcomed by the leaders of all three local airports, whom I have spoken to many times since taking up office last month.

The scheme has only been in operation for a matter of weeks but the early signs are positive, with a number of new routes, which are economically important to NI, having been introduced from all three local airports to GB destinations. This improved connectivity with GB will stimulate inbound tourism, as well as both inward and outward business travel.

It is clear that the removal of APD by Whitehall, in parallel with the positive impacts as a result of the NIDAKS, would further ease the constraints on, and barriers to, business and leisure travel, and in turn act as a significant boost to the whole economy. I will continue to fight to have this unfair tax removed.

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