The aviation sector has blasted chancellor Rishi Sunak for failing to offer any concessions on Air Passenger Duty (APD) in his Budget speech on Wednesday (3 March).
Aviation’s airport and airline associations said that while extensions to the furlough scheme and the ongoing business rates holiday were undoubtedly welcome, the measures announced by the chancellor weren’t enough to stave off further damage to the industry.
"The Budget is blind to the impact of the near-complete shutdown of international travel," said Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association (AOA).
“While the extensions of the Job Retention Scheme and airport business rates relief are very welcome, they are not nearly enough given the scale of Covid-19’s impact.
"Combined with the long‑haul APD increase, which is a very damaging blow to an industry already on its knees, this is not a Budget for a global Britain."
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the trade body for UK registered airlines, said the continued absence of the Treasury’s promised consultation on APD – announced a year ago by Sunak – "was a source of much frustration and bewilderment".
"We welcome the extension of the Job Retention Scheme, which has already saved tens of thousands of jobs across UK aviation," said Alderslade.
"This will enable carriers to retain staff as we await the restart of the sector, and provide much-needed certainty to airlines needing to make critical planning decisions over the coming months.
"Ultimately, it is the reopening of international travel that will ensure we still have an aviation sector, but we are clear that without a summer season airlines will require a bespoke support package that goes beyond loans."
Dee agreed, stressing aviation’s recovery would take the best part of a decade, with passenger numbers not expected to return to 2019 levels "until the late 2020s".
"An abrupt end to government support for aviation in a few months’ time will lead to difficult decisions for airports, including on employment levels," she said.
"The UK’s global competitors have recognised this and have backed their airports and aviation sectors with support far exceeded the UK’s efforts to date."
She called on the UK government to work with the UK’s devolved administrations to set out a four-nation aviation recovery package, providing "long-term financial and policy support" for the sector.
Dee added: “Only with such support will the work of the new Global Travel Taskforce have any chance of a successful take-off towards a world-leading UK aviation sector.”
Rajeev Shaunak, head of travel and tourism at accountants MHA MacIntyre Hudson, offered a slightly more upbeat outlook. "On a positive front, there was no major rise in APD which could well have had a serious impact on an already damaged market."
The rate of APD paid on short-haul journeys will be frozen at 2020/21 levels, but will increase on medium- and long-haul economy seats by £2, and by £4 on premium classes.