Opinion: The country is united – all for one on APD

Opinion: The country is united – all for one on APD

Devolving Air Passenger Duty to Scotland is fine if reductions in the tax are mirrored elsewhere, otherwise it’s unfair, says Tim Alderslade of the Airport Operators Association and voters agree

With the general election less than three months away, the Airports Operators Association (AOA) has today published polling data from marginal seats on the issue of devolving Air Passenger Duty (APD) to Scotland.

This polling, conducted by ComRes, shows there is clear public support for matching any APD reduction north of the border with an immediate similar level of reduction everywhere in the UK.

Politicians seeking to respond to public opinion should take note.

As a sector, UK aviation welcomed the recent Government reforms of APD. Abolishing Bands C and D for the longest flights and axing APD on children under 16 by next year will undoubtedly deliver a much-needed boost to outbound and inbound tourism, and make the UK a more attractive destination for business travel.

Airports and airlines across the country will do everything they can to ensure passengers are aware of these changes, at home and overseas.

However, even with these reforms the UK still levies far and away the highest rates of APD in the world - double those of its nearest challenger, Germany, and the APD take is scheduled to increase in future years.

The Government itself estimates that by 2017-18 total revenues will reach an eye-watering £3.8 billion. To put this into context, in 2006-07 APD raised less than £1 billion for the Treasury.

The AOA and A Fair Tax on Flying, the industry coalition we campaign with on APD, believe a fundamental change in thinking is needed.

The fact that such a change is set to take place in Scotland, care of the Smith Commission’s proposal to devolve responsibility for APD to the Scottish Government, shows just what is possible.

The Commission’s recommendation – accepted by all the main UK political parties – would result in APD rates north of the border coming down by 50%, with the intention to abolish APD altogether eventually.

Draft legislation granting the necessary powers has been published and is due to be taken through the House of Commons by the next UK Government, to become law by next year.

Today’s polling data, reported in Travel Weekly, shows the aviation sector has the UK public on its side when it says all parts of the UK should benefit from the same cut in APD which Scotland is due to get.

The vast majority of voters polled in marginal constituencies – where the general election will be decided – believe APD rates should be consistent across the UK (78%), and more than half strongly agree with this statement.

A similar proportion agreed that if passengers in Scotland were to pay a lower rate of APD, this would be unfair to passengers in the rest of the UK (75%).

Around two thirds of voters of all main parties think the UK Government should commit to match a reduction in APD should the Scottish Government halve current rates (68%), with 40% strongly agreeing.

Airports and airlines need to be able to plan for the future with certainty. The former develop infrastructure for future passenger numbers years in advance. The latter set out their route schedules many months in advance.

The UK Government and politicians of all political hues should take heed of these polling results.

The results mirror growing concerns that allowing one part of the UK to levy substantially reduced rates of APD would not only be unfair to our sector and to passengers, but could also distort the market in terms of where airlines decide to fly to and from.

All those in the aviation and tourism sector should call for the main political parties to set out their thinking ahead of the UK general election, and to publish plans on how they intend to ensure no airport or passenger is disadvantaged by the devolution of APD.

With public opinion clearly supporting the idea that an APD cut in Scotland should be matched immediately by a cut everywhere in the UK and with a general election due now is the time press the case.

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