Boris Johnson’s plan to cut air passenger duty (APD) on domestic flights has been branded “enormously disappointing” by public transport and environmental groups.
The Prime Minister said he wants to “build back better” after the coronavirus crisis in a way that brings “every corner of the UK closer together”.
He will launch a consultation this spring on reforming APD – a tax on passenger flights from UK airports – as part of efforts to improve transport connecting all four nations which includes upgraded rail, road, sea and air links.
Andy Bagnall, director general of industry body the Rail Delivery Group, urged Mr Johnson to “encourage people to make greener choices to get from A to B such as taking the train”.
He went on: “Rather than considering a cut to air passenger duty in isolation, Government should ensure there is a level tax playing field across cars, planes and trains with each paying according to the environmental impact they have.”
Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “This is enormously disappointing, especially coming a week after a rail fare rise and fuel duty freeze, and makes a mockery of our climate commitments.
“The Government’s own green agenda is veering badly off course and without a rethink it threatens to undermine all its previous efforts to tackle carbon emissions.”
Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, commented: “The Government needs to face up to the unavoidable reality that the aviation industry has to be smaller than it was before the pandemic, and get on with the vital job of making that process as painless as possible for the workers, and with the lowest possible impact on the climate.”
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association said cutting domestic flight duty “flies in the face of the Government’s climate commitments”.
General secretary Manuel Cortes urged the Government to invest in “truly green public transport”, such as rail, which is the “most effective intercity connection taking people to the heart of our towns and cities”.
The aviation industry has long called for APD to be reduced or even abolished, claiming it is an unfair burden on passengers and one of the highest taxes of its kind in the world.
Regional airline Flybe, which collapsed in March 2020, blamed APD for contributing to its financial struggles.
Rates for most UK domestic flights are £13 in standard class, adding £26 to the price of a return ticket.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said: “It seems wrong that someone flying from Belfast to London and back pays more UK tax than someone flying from Dublin to London and back.
“Isn’t it time to harvest that Brexit dividend, and cut Air Passenger Duty? So we will do just that, subject to consultation in the usual way.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, an association representing UK-registered carriers, said the potential cut would provide “a welcome measure of relief to domestic carriers facing an existential threat from the impacts of Covid”.
He continued: “It will help to sustain current domestic connections including into Heathrow, our national hub, as well as all the regions of the UK, which is essential to achieving economic growth and supporting the Government’s global Britain agenda.”
Karen Dee, boss of the Airport Operators Association, commented: “The recognition of the detrimental impact of Air Passenger Duty and a commitment to review domestic APD to reduce its impact is very welcome.
“Domestic aviation suffered a double hit in the last year, with the collapse of Flybe and the Covid-19 pandemic, and this offers a glimmer of hope for the future.”