Opinion: This is no time to give up in the battle against APD

Opinion: This is no time to give up in the battle against APD

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association

It’s about that time of year when I pen a polemic about something which annoys me.

It may be down to the balmy August weather, or the fact that there are less people around the office to hold me back. But this year the thing which is bothering me is Air Passenger Duty.

Not APD per se, I hasten to add – annoyance at having the highest levels of APD in the world is not a new annoyance in my portfolio of annoyances.

No, it is disappointment with the comments of well-meaning colleagues who have been saying on the pages of Travel Weekly that we should give up on campaigning against APD.

The argument goes that as we – as an industry – haven’t succeeded in securing a national freeze, cut or abolition of this iniquitous levy, then we somehow have failed and should turn our attention to engaging on something else.

The Treasury isn’t listening so let’s accept it. I take a different view.

I think that, thanks to the work of A Fair Tax on Flying (AFTOF) – the coalition which includes airports, airlines, and travel, tourism and business organisations – and other supportive bodies, we have managed to prevent APD rates going even higher in this parliamentary term than would otherwise be the case.

I am not going to cite statistics because this is a polemic and not an analysis; but it is simply unarguable that between 2005 and 2010 APD increased far more than the 2010-2015 period.

And even though yearly inflationary APD increases are still far too high – APD should be cut or abolished (the recent PriceWaterhouse Coopers report clearly demonstrates how this would be afforded by resulting increased economic activity) – we would be in an even worse position on APD without publicly and volubly campaigning against it.

I would argue that the 300,000 emails sent last year from constituents and overseas passengers to MPs and the Chancellor has massively raised the profile of APD in political circles, making an above-inflation increase less likely.

Simply, if the Treasury thought our sector was an easy touch and that there would be no comeback from us at all, does anyone reading this seriously believe the increases wouldn’t be even higher than inflation?

Back in 2010, anti-aviation opponents were claiming that the Treasury were giving aviation a £10 billion tax break because we weren’t paying fuel duty, or having UK or EU VAT levied on flying services.

The then Transport Secretary Philip Hammond even said, “Aviation is lightly taxed”, as if as a matter of principle there needed to be more taxation on air travel.

Three years later the current Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, has intimated publicly that, if economic growth were to accelerate, the Chancellor would be freer to look at APD; and no-one in the DfT or Treasury is repeating Hammond’s mantra.

Notwithstanding last month’s DfT response to the Transport Select Committee ruling out an APD review in this specific Parliament, this is all still a far cry from the ideological statement Hammond made three years ago.

And if you look at March’s Aviation Policy Framework, it makes it abundantly clear that the government is not going to charge fuel duty, or allow UK or EU VAT to be levied on our sector.

So this is no time to give up on APD.

There will be further business and consumer campaigns taking place this year, via the AFTOF coalition and individual organisations’ initiatives; and we should all support them.

Only by staying in the game and making our valid case on APD loudly and clearly can we keep APD levels down; and if we are going to get a cut or a freeze one day, it will only be because we kept going on APD.

Right, glad I’ve got that off my chest.

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