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Why we'd all pay dearly if flight tax was abolished

By Claire McNeilly

Published 19/06/2015

Air passenger duty (APD) is here to stay - so we'd better get used to it.

There is little point appealing to the good nature of Stormont politicians, as Belfast International Airport boss Graham Keddie did recently through the medium of this newspaper.

The figures simply don't add up.

Abolishing the contentious air tax from here on short-haul flights may partially dilute the flood of travellers and holidaymakers whose preferred destination is the tax-free Dublin Airport.

But, ultimately, it won't benefit the local economy; indeed, leading local economists have estimated that scrapping the tax will actually cost us £7.1m a year.

Or, as John Simpson calculated in simple terms, its abolition would cost each Northern Ireland family £100 annually to implement.

The folks on the hill did make a bold move by scrapping APD on long-haul flights several years ago.

But that has to be seen as a one-off measure to secure the BIA to New York/Newark service, which was under threat at the time.

That remains Northern Ireland's only long-haul international flight as, to date, Belfast International has failed to attract any new long-haul routes such as Canada and Dubai.

So who is to blame for this scenario?

Is it really tax-free Dublin, with its swanky new Terminal 2 and excellent car parking facilities?

Or could it actually be us in Northern Ireland, where staycations have become the norm in the wake of the recession?

Local tourism is heavily dependent on local people taking breaks at home.

The latest Government figures suggest that they accounted for half the 4.5m overnight trips in 2014, up 11% on the previous year.

So the next time that we complain about there being so few places to fly to from here, perhaps we should look a little closer to home.

For that is clearly where many of us prefer to stay.

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