Belfast Telegraph

Warning over air duty cuts anomaly

The Government's decision to cut air passenger duty (APD) for Northern Ireland creates a new anomaly relating to UK regional airports, a Labour MP has claimed.

Economic Secretary to the Treasury Chloe Smith announced the move in a written ministerial statement which said: "From November 1 2011, the rate of APD for direct long-haul passengers departing from airports in Northern Ireland will be cut to the short-haul rate, which is currently £12 in economy and £24 in business and first class.

She added the measure was a response to the "unique challenge" facing Northern Ireland and was designed to "ensure local airports remain competitive, demonstrating the Government's commitment to stimulating and rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy".

Speaking during Commons questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Goggins, MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, welcomed the Government's decision to reduce air passenger duty on long haul flights, but added: "Although this creates now a new anomaly of course, whereby if you pay tax on a return flight from Belfast to New York, you pay less tax than you would on a return flight to Manchester.

"So given the importance of regional routes to the Northern Ireland economy, will he press the Chancellor, who is sitting very close to him, for a lower rate of duty on flights between Belfast and regional airports in the UK?"

Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Hugo Swire stressed the importance of the aviation industry in Northern Ireland.

He said: "Well, I think we've been pressing the Chancellor on quite a lot of things recently and I'm not sure we'd want to press him much more."

He added: "Northern Ireland shares a land border and the flights from Dublin were cheaper, that was the problem.

"We are most grateful to the Treasury for recognising the particular anomaly of the transatlantic Belfast route and any other airlines now listening in may well wish to take advantage as we want to grow air traffic in Northern Ireland as part of rebalancing the economy."

Ms Smith said the Government was also launching a process for the devolution of aspects of APD to the Northern Ireland Assembly to "provide a lasting solution to the unique circumstances Northern Ireland faces".

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