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Scrapping air tax would boost economy, says Flybe boss

By John Mulgrew

Flybe's new boss has said ditching air passenger duty (APD) would help grow Northern Ireland's economy. Christine Ourmieres-Widener was speaking during a visit to Belfast City Airport.

The former CityJet boss was appointed as the new chief executive of the UK regional carrier in January.

"It is a fantastic company, and I'm convinced it's a massive opportunity to improve where we are today and improve our customer focus," she said.

"We are a bit in a reflection point where we are.

"It's a big base with eight aircraft, and we want to be successful in Belfast. We have a plan with the airport to see how we can start to grow on the routes which are quite successful."

Flybe, which employs almost 200 people in Belfast, said its routes were performing well, but there remained room for improvement.

The company is the biggest operator at Belfast City Airport, with around 15 UK routes.

Business passengers remain a big part of Flybe's air traffic, particularly in Northern Ireland, where they make up 65% of the company's total number.

On Brexit, Ms Ourmieres-Widener said the airline was watching to ensure that any restrictions did not hit air travel.

"We are following the discussions and are ready to talk to the Government to explain to them what could be a difficulty if changes are made," she said.

Asked whether scrapping APD, a £13 tax on most flights leaving the UK, would help boost demand in Northern Ireland, Ms Ourmieres-Widener said: "Yes, of course. It's difficult (to guess) what would be the customer behaviour. It's a very price-sensitive market. We can see the impact that has happened in countries like the Netherlands.

"We are supporting not only the decrease, but the abolition of APD. We have been following the initiative of the Scottish Government, and I think it's a very good initiative.

"The examples we see in Europe are positive for the economy and creation of employment.

"By having an affordable travel opportunity and price to travel, you increase the number of people (visiting).

"It's just a very logical output for an economy, and an economy which definitely has been an engine of economic development."

However, APD was not included in yesterday's Budget.

Ms Ourmieres-Widener was visiting Belfast as part of International Women's Day.

Flybe is also already a big customer of Bombardier, with the bulk of its fleet using the 78-seat Q400 turbo-prop, which is part-made in Belfast.

But the new CSeries passenger jet is likely to be too large for the carrier.

However, Ms Ourmieres-Widener said there remained a possibility of ordering those aircraft down the line.

"Depending on the network vision, why not?" she said.

"But today, the network is the first step, and that's what we are doing."

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