Published Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Mr Walsh appeared at a Northern Ireland Select Committee. (© Getty)
Mr Walsh, International Airlines Group (IAG) head, told the group of MPs that British Airway has joined forces with three other airlines to campaign against what he called the unfair tax on flights.
The Committee was discussing forming an air transport strategy for Northern Ireland during the meeting on Wednesday morning.
"I believe this is an unfair tax," said Mr Walsh. "This is distorting competition and it's not an issue that should be underestimated."
Air passenger duty for long haul flights across the Atlantic from Northern Ireland was lowered to £12 in April, but for domestic flights the cost is £26 per passenger a return flight.
"This is a business that's fiercely competitive, it may have surprised some to see myself with the CEOs of Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair and Easyjet coming together to agree on this, in fact it's the only issue the four of us have been able to agree on," Mr Walsh continued.
"I think that should get the message to people."
While I fully recognise the benefit to Northern Ireland of the change to air passenger duty, I believe it's in everybody's interest for this tax to be scrapped rather than adjusted in the way it has been.
A spokesperson for Ryanair said that air passenger duty has prevented expansion by the airline in Northern Ireland.
Kate Sherry, deputy director of route development at Ryanair, told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs: "APD prohibits large scale expansion into Northern Ireland to the detriment of industry and tourism connections.
"However, we continue our dialogue with the airports."
Ryanair flies from the City of Derry, but left George Best Belfast City Airport in 2010, citing delays in building a longer runway.
Paul Simmons, UK director at easyJet, said the tax acts as a brake on people travelling and said it was a major proportion of the ticket cost.
"This is an unfair tax overall, but it's especially unfair for the people of Northern Ireland. And if this tax is increased, it will have a serious impact on tourism," he added.
East Belfast MP Naomi Long called for the rate to be lowered to make NI more competitive with the Irish Republic.
The Alliance representative said: "Northern Ireland finds itself in a unique situation, as the only region of the UK that shares a land border with another EU Member State.
"The competitive pricing offered in the Republic of Ireland directly affects the not just aviation, but tourism and the wider economy in Northern Ireland."
Mr Walsh also gave assurances that Belfast Heathrow slots will be protected in any destination reshuffle by British Airways.
The news has been welcomed by South Belfast MP Alastair McDonald of the SDLP.
He said: "I asked Willie Walsh for a guarantee that Belfast Heathrow slots would be maintained and not sacrificed to meet British Airways' other long haul ambitions.
"I welcome his assurance that Belfast slots will be retained and exempt from any recycling or reshuffling efforts. This is an important business route for Belfast and the commercial sector and wider air passenger population will be relieved that it is not under threat.
"I also note his commitment that the Belfast Heathrow route will be safe and that British Airways will continue to provide a competitive service even if Air Lingus moves to the City Airport."