Warning over survival of airports
The survival of Northern Ireland airports could be endangered if action on passenger duty is not taken, MLAs were warned.
An all-Ireland strategy should be developed to ensure a harmonised approach to air travel is implemented across the island and regional airports north of the border are protected, Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin told the Assembly.
With duty on air travel significantly higher in the UK than in the Republic of Ireland, many people in Northern Ireland are opting to use Dublin Airport for flights.
Mr McLaughlin highlighted the threat posed by air passenger duty (APD) as he called on Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy to adopt an all-Ireland aviation strategy.
The Department of Transport in London is drawing up a revised aviation strategy for the whole of the UK.
"I am sure the minister is as aware as everyone is in this house of the very real challenges that the air passenger duty imposes on our regional airports," Mr McLaughlin said during ministerial question time at Stormont.
"I would ask the minister if he would reflect that it would be very much in the interests of our regional airports, not just to their development but to their very survival, if air passenger duty could be included in the context of an updated aviation strategy and perhaps he would rethink his approach."
Mr Kennedy had earlier indicated he was not in favour of an all-Ireland strategy and encouraged stakeholders to contribute to a public consultation on the revised UK strategy.
The Ulster Unionist stressed that APD was a reserved taxation issue but said ministerial colleagues were lobbying hard at Whitehall for a cut in the levy.
In reply to the Sinn Fein MLA he said: "I don't share his enthusiasm for an all-island approach at this point. I think we would be sensible to wait for the outcome of the present consultation by the Department for Transport in London, seek to influence that and then bring things forward at that point."