Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Chancellor has to ground flights duty

Air tax is a detested levy. It just seems like another way to steal money from travellers' pockets and the duty has jumped more than 140% in the UK and EU since 1994.

There is no doubt that having to pay the duty on every flight has led to people reconsidering this mode of transport. While most people accept having to pay it for their annual holiday - although it adds around £100 to a family of four's flight costs - it is seen as an unnecessary burden at other times.

As the Northern Ireland Affairs committee at Westminster noted, air travel is not a luxury for people living in the province. It is a vital service for family, leisure and business travellers given our geographic location. And the duty is seen as a deterrent to all of those sectors. Visitors who may have used budget airlines to get here in the past now find that air passenger duty costs almost as much as their flights in some instances.

Even the airlines wonder about the viability of some routes, including vital ones to London, given the level of the duty.

It was only a short time ago that the duty on long-haul flights was scrapped here to preserve our only direct flight to the US. Now the MPs want the duty on all flights in and out of Northern Ireland to be scrapped.

They say it will help to rebalance the economy and also boost visitor numbers. Tourism is one area which could see tremendous growth especially next year when Londonderry becomes the UK City of Culture and news of our enhanced tourism infrastructure has spread.

The Westminster MPs deserve credit for recognising the plight of Northern Ireland over air passenger duty and the great disadvantage it places on the province.

They were instrumental in getting the long haul duty scrapped and it is to be hoped that they will have similar success over short haul duty. They make a compelling case and the Chancellor must listen and implement their suggestion.

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