The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) has accused the Scottish government of “kicking the can down the road” after plans to replace Air Passenger Duty (APD) with a lower, devolved alternative were this week put back “beyond April 2020”.
Ministers in Scotland want to replace APD with a new Air Departure Tax (ADT) and cut the levy on outbound flights by as much as 50%. Rates of APD currently range from £13 for short-haul economy flights up to £172 for long-haul upper or premium travel.
However, Scotland’s public finance minister Kate Forbes confirmed on Tuesday (23 April) that the process had become mired in legal complexities, telling fellow ministers at Holyrood “continued uncertainty around Brexit” had also contributed to the delay to what was one of the government’s flagship policies.
Forbes said the government was doing everything it could to work with airlines and airports to grow direct routes to and from Scotland to support its tourism economy and Scottish businesses.
In response, SPAA president Ken McLeod said a “more entrepreneurial approach” to reducing or removing the tax would encourage airlines to introduce more flights from Scottish airports.
“The Republic of Ireland divested itself of the dreaded air tax in 2011, which affected Northern Ireland to such an extent the UK government reduced the tax to zero in 2013 on direct long-haul flights,” said McLeod.
“Ryanair has just reduced its winter schedule out of Belfast because of the tax still remaining on short-haul. So ways can be found to get around several challenges, and the Scottish government needs to be more entrepreneurial in its approach to tackle the issue.
“Airlines will invest in Scotland if we reduce or remove the tax and, despite Brexit, we still need to plan for the future. The government still needs to look beyond the short-term and think of the long-term health of our economy and our tourism industry.”
Airlines UK, the trade body representing UK registered airlines, has called on the Scottish government “to be straight with the industry”.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK; Derek Provan, chief executive of Glasgow and Aberdeen airports owner AGS Airports; and Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh airport, urged the government in a joint statement to stop prevaricating.
“This was a cast-iron manifesto commitment and they have now failed to implement it two years in a row,” said the trio. “In the meantime, it is Scottish tourism and connectivity suffering, as we’ve seen with Norwegian pulling out of Edinburgh and lost routes at both Glasgow and Aberdeen.
“The message from airlines and airports is clear – either do what you have promised and get on with it sooner rather than later or be upfront with us that it is never going to happen.”
APD is a tax levied on all airlines operating in the UK. It was introduced in 1994 at a flat rate of £5 to UK and EU destinations and £10 elsewhere.
However, the charge has increased significantly to between £13 (economy) and £78 for Band A destinations (within 2,000 miles) and £78 (economy) and £515 for Band B (2,001+ miles).
The standard rate, levied on seats in upper or premium cabins, stands at £26 for Band A and £172 Band B.