Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland airports join together to urge Westminster to review tax on flights

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland's three airports have written to Damian Green, calling for the senior Cabinet Minister to expedite a major review into a tax on flights to and from here, it can be revealed.

A full review into whether scrapping the tax would benefit the economy here was included as part of the DUP's £1bn deal with Prime Minister Theresa May's Government.

In a letter seen by the Belfast Telegraph, the airports say they "fully support the ending of air passenger duty (APD) on all flights from our airports".

In the agreement between the DUP and Downing Street, it says that "a detailed consultative report will be commissioned into the impact of VAT and APD on tourism in Northern Ireland, to recommend how best to build upon the growing success of that sector".

Air passenger duty (APD) is a £13 tax on most flights out of the UK. Northern Ireland's airports want it scrapped, as it has been in the Republic.

"We stand ready to take part in the review agreed between the Government and the DUP and to put our case for the removal of this tax on both growth and jobs," a letter sent to the Minister said.

"It could be helpful if we could be advised of the timescale for the review, the scope, and who would carry it out.

"We already have a number of our existing and potential airlines ready to commit to flying from Northern Ireland should APD be removed, and we would be most obliged if this review could be initiated, completed, and the rest implemented as soon as possible."

Belfast International, Belfast City and Derry City airports have each signed the letter calling for an end to the tax.

However, a report prepared for the Executive in 2015 said there isn't a strong enough case for ending the £13 duty.

The report examined the impact cutting the duty could have, and highlighted a massive tax shortfall, outweighing any increase in additional passenger numbers.

That could mean Northern Ireland suffering a £55m reduction in its block grant from Westminster.

Air passenger duty has already been cut on long-haul flights, but still applies to the majority of flights here.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Belfast International Airport boss Graham Keddie said that as "the main voice for the ending of APD, we will now intensify our lobbying and, of course, play our part in a promised detailed consultative report on the impact of VAT rates within the hospitality sector and APD.

"We don't need this fudged any longer.

"All of us know how much damage is being caused to our sector and how it's holding back immense growth, investment and job creation," he said.

The DUP's deal with the Prime Minister and the Conservative Government in June also included further consultation on tourism VAT.

It also said that "one of the first tasks for the new Executive will be to work towards the devolution of corporation tax rates", including a timetable for its introduction.

Ryanair has suggested that the airline could double the number of flights from Belfast if the tax on flights was abolished.

Speaking about renewed calls to scrap APD, Belfast City Airport boss Brian Ambrose said in May that it would deliver a "step change" for the tourism industry.

He said his airport lost a Madrid route last year to Cork, and was told that the reason was the lack of APD in the Irish Republic.

Belfast Telegraph