Opinion: We've hit our target, but we can't stop now

Opinion: We've hit our target, but we can't stop now

By Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association

Last year, a broad cross-section of airport, airline and tourism organisations formed a coalition to campaign against the inexorable rises in Air Passenger Duty (APD).

It was called A Fair Tax on Flying (AFToF), and its purpose was to draw attention to the fact that the UK has the highest aviation tax in the world; that it has risen sharply in recent years; that it is set to go up even further in future; and that something now needed to be done about it.

In the early stages, the campaign built support among the business community and interested MPs, and achieved significant amounts of media coverage.

And in 2011, AFToF secured a freeze in the planned APD rises.

However, earlier this year APD was increased by double the rate of inflation and is now set to rise every year to 2015.

MPs who understood the concerns and wanted to do something about it said that APD needed to become a ‘post-bag’ issue for them to highlight the strength of feeling to the chancellor.

So that is precisely what AFToF set out to do.

Just over seven weeks ago AFToF launched a website which gave the public the opportunity to send a letter to their MP on APD. (If you haven’t emailed your MP already please do so – visit afairtaxonflying.org.)

The email to MPs expresses concerns over the high levels of APD, and calls on the government to refrain from future increases and to commission an independent study to look at the impact of APD on the overall economy.

MPs are also asked to sign a parliamentary motion in support of the campaign, which is now in the top 10 most-signed of the year, with over 75 signatures.

Every MP has now received emails about the campaign, including the Prime Minister, chancellor, transport secretary and aviation minister.

And so, ahead of the August Bank Holiday getaway with more than 100,000 emails sent to MPs, there is no denying this is now a ‘post-bag’ issue.

It is clear that the government must sit up and listen to the groundswell of public opinion on this issue, just like they have with other measures announced in the Budget, such as the 'Pasty Tax' and Fuel Duty.

With the euro crisis deepening, the Bank of England reducing the UK’s growth forecast, and the UK in the grip of a long-term recession, aviation can help deliver the growth that the economy so desperately needs.

Aviation already makes a huge contribution to the UK economy, directly and indirectly providing a million jobs, £50 billion GDP and £8 billion to the chancellor.

It also supports millions of tourism, export and other service sector jobs.

But it could do much more if it wasn’t faced by the hurdle of having the world’s highest aviation tax.

The chancellor has a real opportunity in his coming November Autumn Statement to announce that APD will not continue to increase and to commission an independent study to look at the wider economic impacts of the tax.

Lower future APD levels than currently planned will not necessarily result in less tax revenue for the Treasury: it is entirely possible that the combination of more people flying – and therefore paying APD – and increased business generated elsewhere in the economy would more than make up any revenue shortfall.

So, a big thank you to all the Travel Weekly readers who have emailed their MP. Our original aim was to reach 100,000, but we will not be stopping there.

The government needs to understand that such high levels affect UK holidaymakers, businesses and inbound tourists. Please continue to spread the campaign to your colleagues, friends and family.

We have reached a significant milestone but we must now keep this issue at the forefront of MPs’ and the chancellor’s mind right up until the Autumn Statement.

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