Kilcooney: Scrap air passenger duty to help Northern Ireland airports
Scrapping Air Passenger Duty (APD) would help Northern Ireland airports against "the unfair competition from Dublin" as well as boosting the tourism industry, Lord Kilcooney has said.
The owner of Alpha newspapers and former Ulster Unionist deputy leader spoke after the Department of Finance and Personnel committee heard from representatives of the three Northern Ireland airports about how scrapping APD would affect Northern Ireland.
According to Dublin Airport statistics, it saw an increase of 47% in Northern Ireland passenger numbers in the first six months of last year after the Republic scrapped APD.
Lord Kilcooney - who has said he is opposed to the devolution of corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland - said scrapping APD would a major boost for the tourism sector and business connections. "The abolition of APD would greatly assist both Belfast Airports as well as Derry City Airport," he said.
"They suffer from unfair competition from Dublin Airport to which there are now buses ferrying passengers from NI to Dublin Airport daily."
A report by consultant Mott MacDonald, commissioned by Belfast International and given to the committee, said if the rate was slashed it would create thousands of jobs. "A 50% reduction in APD might support around 3,800 additional jobs and £200m per annum in GVA (gross value added) by 2020," it said.
Graham Keddie, managing director of Belfast International Airport, said removing APD would be a huge boost to the Northern Ireland economy. "It would mean more flights, more jobs, more in taxes, more money, more tourists," he said.
"The Welsh and Scots are very keen in getting devolved and scrapping it right away."
But a report last month form the Northern Ireland Centre for Economic Policy said there was no convincing argument for scrapping APD.
In 2013, a PwC report argued that scrapping air passenger duty would be better for the economy than lowering corporation tax. According to PwC, getting rid of the tax would be a net gain for the Treasury of £0.25bn per year, as more income would be generated through other taxes. NI will lose £400m from the block grant if corporation tax is devolved, compared to only £55m if APD was scrapped, Lord Kilcooney said.