Belfast Telegraph

Top firms demand a quick decision over aviation tax

By Claire McNeilly

Northern Ireland’s business elite are urging the Government to make an early decision on the contentious issue of aviation tax.

Executives from more than 20 leading firms have sent an open letter to Chancellor George Osborne amid fears that our only transatlantic flight could be axed.

Seven months ago the Belfast Telegraph revealed the popular Continental service from Belfast to New York (Newark) was in danger due to tax hikes introduced by the Treasury last November.

A levy of £60 is being imposed on each US-bound passenger travelling from Northern Ireland — compared to a €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.

But the letter, which represents a large part of the local business community, says the punitive issue of air passenger duty (APD) must be addressed urgently.

“The air route between Belfast and New York is an essential piece of connectivity which must be maintained,” it reads.

“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 broaden our reach.

“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 airline operators have been very clear, if APD is made competitive with Dublin routes they will remain in Northern Ireland and, if not, they will transfer the routes out of Northern Ireland.”

Flagship companies Bombardier Aerospace Belfast and leading bus manufacturer Wrightbus are among 23 signatories.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said she and her Executive colleagues are currently in close discussions with the Treasury on the way forward for the province in respect of the duty.

However, the open letter refers to what it describes as the “swift action” taken by the Dublin government to “virtually abolish” its air tax, while business class passengers flying from Belfast still incur charges of as much as £120.

“Our land border with Dublin puts our region at very unique disadvantage,” the letter says.

“We urgently need this matter to be addressed.

“Northern Ireland could well stand on the brink of sustained economic growth — but we need your assistance when it comes to key decisions in the weeks and months ahead.”

Background

The open letter has been approved by 23 business chiefs from 21 firms: NI Chamber of Commerce; 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.

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