The high cost of Air Passenger Duty is to blame for Flybe’s decision to pull out of Gatwick by hampering the airline’s ability to make domestic routes profitable, the Scottish National Party claims.
A three-times-a-day service to Inverness is one of a group of routes in doubt following the airline’s decision to sell all of its take-off and landing slots at Gatwick to easyJet for £20 million.
Easyjet, which also operates a Gatwick-Inverness service, is set to take over the slots next March.
But Scottish politicians are worried that the frequency and timings of the Inverness connections will be affected.
Fergus Ewing, SNP MSP for Inverness and Nairn, told the BBC: “The loss of these services would be a hammer blow for the Highlands.
“The Inverness Flybe service is the one used by [chief secretary to the Treasury] Danny Alexander to get to Westminster – and now it is being withdrawn, in part because APD is too high.
“That is because of the taxation policies of Danny Alexander’s own government – and he is guilty of the most appalling hypocrisy on this issue.”
Alexander said “astronomical increases” in landing charges at Gatwick had hit Flybe hard.
He said: “Last year’s Civil Aviation Authority investigation changed nothing, but we need to press Gatwick to think again in the light of the damaging economy impact.
“There is clearly an opportunity for easyJet to strengthen its Inverness to Gatwick services, but keeping early morning and late evening services will be critical for business, as will the ability easily to connect onto international flights.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said that both Scottish and UK governments had failed to protect the Gatwick-Inverness link.
She said: “Government action is required north and south of the border to help to sustain and grow Scotland’s aviation market.
“Our airports are working tirelessly to serve the needs of Scotland but they are being hamstrung by a lack of support from government.
“Our politicians at Westminster and Holyrood need to recognise the critical role that our air links play in our economy and deliver the right environment and support for both the airports and airlines.”
Easyjet said it was looking into the possibility of maintaining some of Flybe’s Highland links with London.
A spokeswoman said Easyjet was already committed to serving Inverness and carried twice as many passengers as Flybe to London each year.
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