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Dodds calls for cut in air passenger duty to save carriers and maintain UK connectivity

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Economy Minister Diane Dodds speaks at yesterday's daily briefing
at Parliament Buildings

Economy Minister Diane Dodds speaks at yesterday's daily briefing at Parliament Buildings

Economy Minister Diane Dodds speaks at yesterday's daily briefing at Parliament Buildings

Cutting air passenger duty could help sustain regional connectivity in the UK when the coronavirus travel restrictions lift, Stormont's Economy Minister has said.

Diane Dodds said strategic interventions were needed from the UK Government to sustain the air transport industry in the wake of the Covid-19 emergency.

Earlier this month the Government joined with the Executive to provide a £5.7m package to sustain routes at Belfast City and City of Derry airports.

Airports in the region have long campaigned for an end to air passenger duty (APD) - an excise duty charged on UK passenger flights - claiming it puts Northern Ireland, as a region so reliant on air travel, at an unfair disadvantage.

Ministers secured powers to scrap long-haul APD here in 2012, but have to pay back a set £2.3m to the Treasury every year to account for lost tax take.

That policy was thrown into question this week when it emerged that Stormont continues to pay this sum despite the last long-haul service ending in 2018.

At yesterday's daily Covid-19 briefing Mrs Dodds declined to be drawn when asked if it was sustainable for Northern Ireland to operate three main airports in the post-virus era. She said the airports were going through an "incredibly difficult period" but highlighted that the vast majority of visitors from Britain travelled by air rather than ferry.

"So, air connectivity is hugely important," she said.

"I've also been making the point that not only do we need to recover the routes, but we need strategic interventions from the Government at a national level to make sure that that air connectivity is supported right throughout the United Kingdom."

Mrs Dodds said she had been in regular contact with colleagues across the devolved regions on the issue.

"We've had a long-term campaign to look at air passenger duty and I think that we need to look at that strategically at a national UK level so that all regions of the United Kingdom can be properly connected," she said.

At yesterday's briefing Mrs Dodds also confirmed she will present a proposed local economic recovery plan to fellow Executive ministers next week.

And she announced that the Executive's £25,000 grant scheme for retail, hospitality, tourism and leisure industry businesses would be expanded to include those that occupy rental properties. In addition, the minister said an already announced £40m fund to support microbusiness here would open next week for applications.

In regard to employee concerns about returning to safe workplaces when certain businesses reopen, Mrs Dodds warned employers that social-distancing requirements were "non-negotiable".

Belfast Telegraph