In a report released today, the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee says that Air Passenger Duty on short haul flights—which make up 98.5% of all flights to Northern Ireland—remains a major stumbling block to rebalancing the NI economy and must be scrapped on all flights to NI from Great Britain and on all flights from NI.
There are no realistic alternatives to air travel - especially for business travel - into and out of Northern Ireland. The Committee says HM Treasury and the Northern Ireland Executive must explore ways to reduce - or preferably abolish - APD on all these flights.
It also says that air connectivity - the air links to hub airports, particularly Heathrow - must be at least maintained at the current level, with the slots for flights to and from Northern Ireland at Heathrow "ring-fenced" and further routes actively sought. Internal access to Northern Ireland’s airports - road and rail links to all three of NI's airports - must be improved.
Again in the interests of competitiveness, the UK and the Irish Governments should co-operate fully in order to introduce a joint, shared visit visa for the UK and the Republic of Ireland, as the current cost of two visas deters both business and leisure travellers from visiting both jurisdictions on a single visit.
The Committee welcomes the review being carried out by the Airports Commission into options to maintain the UK's status as an international hub for aviation. However, the Commission is not due to report until 2015 and delay as to the future airport configuration and capacity in the South East of England is causing concern among the business community in Northern Ireland. The Committee says Government should expedite the review and come to a decision as soon as possible given its importance to Northern Ireland.
Laurence Robertson MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
"For the people of Northern Ireland air travel is not a luxury, it is fundamental to family and economic life. To help rebalance the Northern Ireland economy, it is vital that air links to Great Britain, mainland Europe and the rest of the world are robust.
That means making sure key routes and landing slots are protected, and that people who have no real alternatives to flying, for business or their family life, are not unfairly penalised by the taxes imposed on air travel."