Many people will be facing the consequences of the collapse of Flybe. There will be those frequent fliers who have come to depend on the airline providing the only direct route to the destination of their choice. Others will be facing the prospect of losing out on a short city break or holiday and many regional airports will have lost an airline that was responsible for more than 50% of its departures.
Belfast City is one such airport. Almost 80% of flights in and out of the airport were Flybe. I am pleased that the airport is already in negotiations with other airlines, and I hope that staff can find jobs, routes can be re-established and regional connectivity can be maintained.
Of course, we all recognise there are commercial issues at play, but if the government wants to provide real, practical assistance for regional connectivity, the simplest thing that they can do is scrap Air Passenger Duty (APD).
For years, the tourism industry and businesses leaders have highlighted the damaging impact that this tax has had on the UK as a whole, but particularly on Northern Ireland as we compete with Dublin Airport. More than most other regions, we depend on domestic air travel and we have to endure the double hit of APD being imposed on the outbound and return domestic journeys. It makes it more expensive to fly and consequently more expensive to do business, and more costly for tourists to come here.
Other countries have seen the impact of such taxes and have abolished them. In the Netherlands, the tax generated €300m in revenue, but Dutch airports lost 900,000 travellers and it cost the Dutch economy €1.2bn.
Much will be said about the role of government in supporting regional connectivity and airlines such as Flybe. However, if the government wants to further unleash the potential of UK regions, bolster our tourism industry and support business, few decisions would be more beneficial than abolishing Air Passenger Duty.
Gordon Lyons MLA is a junior minister to the Executive Office