Belfast International Boss Calls on Minister to Rethink APD

The management of Belfast International Airport have called on Northern Ireland’s Ministers to re-think their stance on Air Passenger Duty (APD) after a leading firm of international aviation consultants rejected earlier claims on the cost of doing away with the tax.

In a report published this month, Mott MacDonald concluded that there was calculation error, outdated data and unreasonable, unexplained or unsupported assumptions in the NI Centre for Economic Policy (NICEP) report released earlier this year which was commissioned by the Departments of Finance and Personnel and Enterprise Trade and Investment.

ROUTES EUROPE 2017 will take place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, hosted by a partnership led by Visit Belfast and Invest NI, and supported by Tourism NI, Tourism Ireland, Belfast International Airport, George Best Belfast City Airport and Belfast City Council. It will be held in the in the newly expanded Belfast Waterfront Conference and Exhibition Centre between April 23-25, 2017.

Belfast International Airport said it was prompted to ask Mott MacDonald to conduct an objective analysis of the NICEP report after the local administration, in marked contrast to Scotland and Wales, failed to support the case for seeking the devolved power.

At the time of the release of the original report Graham Keddie, managing director, Belfast International Airport, had highlighted that the report failed to acknowledge “the blatant and unique geographic challenge faced by Northern Ireland” in UK terms, ironically at a time when both Scotland and Wales are pressing their case to have powers over Air Passenger Duty devolved.

In its 46-page document Mott MacDonald says: “We have found there is a strong economic case for the benefits of reducing or abolishing APD in Northern Ireland.”

Speaking to Routesonline in Belfast at the Routes Europe 2017 announcement, Keddie said: “This analysis blows the NICEP report out of the water. It shows it to be flawed and unreliable. The consultants have found that there are large positive net economic benefits to doing away with APD.” He believes this is enough reason for Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive to think again. “At the very least, they should study this document from one of the top firms in aviation and transport matters and acknowledge that a mistake has been made,” he said.

There’s much to gain from securing APD powers, according to the Mott McDonald report. Even if the tax was cut by half it might support 3,800 additional jobs and £200 million per annum in Gross Value Added (GVA).

“We shouldn’t run away and hide from securing APD power. Instead of seeing it as a cost on the Block Grant, we should be courageous enough to view it as the key to unlocking huge economic potential,” said Keddie

“New airlines, new businesses, additional, badly needed jobs, a level playing pitch with Dublin Airport, which has the advantage of no passenger tax, and increased international connectivity are all achievable if we do away with this damaging tax,” he added.

It is clear that Dublin Airport has gained from the continued taxing of air transportation in Northern Ireland through APD after they ended their own tax within the Republic of Ireland.

We reported last year that the number of Northern Ireland residents using Dublin Airport increased by eleven per cent to more than 570,000 in 2013, according to data from the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA). Dublin Airport’s business from Northern Ireland grew about twice as fast as average passenger numbers at the airport that year, which increased by almost six per cent to 20.2 million in 2013.

“We have an opportunity here to follow the Irish experience and what the Scottish Government is determined to achieve. Let’s grasp it with both hands and move to properly and sensibly exploit a sector that for too long has been overlooked,” said Keedie and he is confident that airlines will be ready to react to change in stance on APD.

“We know there are airlines with available aircraft who will move swiftly to grow our network of direct air services, offering highly attractive fares to encourage international visitors to experience Northern Ireland. However the continued application of APD is the most visible deterrent to securing their commitment and, while APD in Northern Ireland persists, they will choose more lucrative opportunities elsewhere,” he added.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…