Belfast Telegraph

Passenger duty threat to air route

Northern Ireland's only transatlantic air route could be axed in less than a year if action is not taken to cut passenger duty, the operator warned.

Executives from Continental Airlines, which runs the Belfast International to Newark service, told a committee of MPs that it could not justify paying £3.2 million annually in departure tax when the levy in the Republic of Ireland would soon be zero.

Managing director of sales for the UK and Ireland Bob Schumacher said if the duty remained at its current rate the airline would soon approach the cusp of saying "enough was enough".

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee member Ian Paisley Jnr pressed the executive on a timeline and asked whether it would be fair to say the airline would be beyond that cusp in a year's time.

Mr Schumacher's response left the committee in no doubt about the looming threat to the route.

"It's more immediate than that," he replied.

The Belfast to Newark route was launched six years ago and Mr Schumacher said it was a viable service which had proved it could be profitable.

But he said its long-term future was being endangered by the departure tax.

Continental is currently absorbing the £3.2 million levy in order to keep prices competitive with flights from Dublin.

The UK's Department of Transport is now examining the issue of Air Passenger Duty (APD).

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