Transport Airports

British airports blame air tax for scrapped routes and fewer flyers

Dec 03, 2012 12:31 pm

Skift Take

The UK aviation industry has a different gripe than the rest of the world, which looks to rising fuel costs as the core cause of lost routes and less profits.

— Samantha Shankman

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Rising Air Passenger Duty (APD) has contributed to the loss of dozens of routes this year, according to a survey of British airports.

APD, paid by all travellers flying from the UK, has risen by up to 360 per cent in the last five years, and George Osborne, the Chancellor, is expected to confirm further increases – to come into effect next year – during his Autumn Statement on Wednesday.

But the survey of 26 airports, carried out by the Airport Operators Association, revealed concern about the impact of the tax on connectivity and passenger numbers.

Several airports highlighted routes which they claim have been lost as a result of APD, while more than half said they expected passenger numbers to fall next year if the tax is increased again.

Gatwick Airport said flights to Kuala Lumpur, operated by Air Asia X until March, were scrapped due to APD, Bristol Airport said several domestic services were cut because of the tax, and Glasgow Prestwick Airport said routes to Stansted, Belfast, Bournemouth, Dublin, Shannon, Gothenburg, Oslo and Stockholm had all been hit because of APD.

The tax was also blamed for the loss of flights between Southampton and Leeds-Bradford, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Brussels, while Cambridge and Derry airports said it was preventing both from expanding their services.

It has been claimed for some time that APD has a damaging and disproportionate impact on the country’s regional hubs – last year Telegraph Travel reported that passenger numbers at Britain’s smaller airports had fallen by up to 70 per cent since 2007.

Last month a Government report recommended giving the National Assembly in Wales the opportunity to scrap APD on long-haul flights, in an attempt to halt a slide in air passenger numbers. Just 1.2 million people passed through Cardiff Airport last year, compared with more than two million in 2006. The recommendation followed the Government’s decision last year to reduce APD on long-haul flights from Belfast from £60 to £12 in a bid to save Northern Ireland’s only remaining long-haul route, Continental’s service to Newark.

Following the most recent rise in APD, an eight per cent increase in April, a family of four travelling to Europe must pay £52 in tax, but those flying farther afield are hit even harder. A family of four flying to New York, for example, are liable for £260 in APD, one visiting the Caribbean must pay £324, while those heading to Australia are hit with a £368 tax bill. Those figures are doubled for anyone flying in premium economy, business-class or first-class cabins, and further rises are planned for next year.

As well as forcing airlines to cut back on services from Britain, APD has been criticised for pricing ordinary British families out of flying, discouraging foreign holidaymakers (who pay the tax on their return) from visiting, and damaging the economies of countries – such as those in the Caribbean – that are heavily reliant on tourism. 

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