Some services from George Best Belfast City Airport will become “beyond the pale” if aviation tax is increased, airline bosses have warned.
Representatives of easyJet, Flybe and British Midland International (BMI) told MPs the current tax regime was “scandalous” with customers in Northern Ireland particularly badly affected.
Their claims came when a committee of MPs met in Westminster to look at the issue of Air Passenger Duty (APD) and how it is affecting airports, airlines, tourism and businesses in Northern Ireland.
The inquiry was also told that the number of air passengers coming into Northern Ireland had dropped by five million since 2008, although visitor numbers are believed to be picking up this year. Northern Ireland's airports have been losing out to those in the Republic, which is set to abolish aviation tax altogether.
Niall Duffy, head of public |affairs for Flybe, said: “It's such a price-sensitive industry that at any given point, external cost pressures, like taxation, make some routes beyond the pale.”
Paul Simmons, easyJet's UK director, said a report commissioned by the company predicted 104,000 fewer visitors for Northern Ireland if APD on short haul flights is |increased.
Despite the threat to Northern Ireland’s transatlantic service, it is band A of the tax, which is levied on short-haul flights, that was |affecting 98.5% of air passengers, said Antoinette McKeown of the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.
She said: “The issue is the ordinary people of Northern Ireland.”
People in Northern Ireland were being hit disproportionately because they travel by air 40% more than the UK average, she said.
Fears have been raised over Northern Ireland’s only transatlantic route after Dublin reduced tax from €10 to €3. Passengers flying from Belfast to Newark pay at least £60. Ulster’s airports told the committee that APD was putting them at an economic disadvantage to airports in the Republic.