Duty on NI long haul flights cut

Published Tuesday, 06 November 2012
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Cutting duty on long haul flights from Northern Ireland is only the first leg of a journey toward making the region more competitive for air passengers, according to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).

Duty on NI long haul flights cut
Belfast International Airport has welcomed the decision. (© UTV)

After passing legislation to reduce the rate to zero, the Assembly should now turn its focus on taxes levied on domestic flights, the travel body said.

The cut in Air Passenger Duty (APD) came after powers to set the rate on direct long haul flights were devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive from Westminster.

The reduction is due to come into effect at the start of January, after Assembly members voted through its final legislative stage on Tuesday.

It was prompted by fears the region's only direct link to the USA - Continental's service from Belfast International to Newark - would be lost if the rate remained significantly higher than in the Republic of Ireland.

Doreen McKenzie, from the Association, welcomed the reduction - but she claimed it would only affect 1% of passengers in Northern Ireland.

"It's a good step in the right direction," she said. "We've dealt with 1% of the problem, now we need to look at the remaining 99%."

Abolishing Air Passenger Duty on long haul flights will help to protect and improve our international air access and ensure the competitiveness of our airports.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson

Although the Executive applied for and was granted powers to set its own duty rate on direct long haul flights, the responsibility for levying domestic flights remains with the Treasury.

Ms McKenzie said the Executive should now press for those powers as well.

While acknowledging that cutting domestic duty would result in a multimillion-pound slice off Northern Ireland's block grant, she called for more research to establish if extra tourism revenue generated would counterbalance or exceed the loss.

"But we need to first get the powers to set the rate so that if there was a good case to reduce it we would not have to wait two years for more legislation to come through," she said.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson welcomed the reduction in the long haul rate and said it was "good news" for the economy.

"Direct airlinks facilitate local firms in doing business with customers outside the region, they are also vital for the local tourism industry and in attracting Foreign Direct Investment to Northern Ireland - both key to growing and rebalancing our economy," he said.

The DUP minister said the reduction would "enable Northern Ireland to remain an attractive place to do business", before adding: "I also hope that it will help secure flights to new long haul destinations."

John Doran, Belfast International Airport's managing director, said: "Given the increasing differential with regard to direct long haul Air Passenger Duty levels between the UK and Republic of Ireland, and the very specific problems which this caused for Northern Ireland connectivity, we are grateful to the Northern Ireland Executive and HM Treasury that decisive action has been taken."

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said the announcement is "really good news for tourism to Northern Ireland".

"As an island destination, direct and convenient access services, as well as competitive airfares, are vital to our future tourism success," he added.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
Bill in Canada wrote (810 days ago):
I think its a shame that there are no direct flights from Toronto to Belfast. I have never been on a flight from Toronto to Belfast in my 30yrs + of travel that didnt have a full capacity load. Time the Assembly got their fingers out & done something constructive instead of bickering about marches & flags etc..
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