Expanding Heathrow Is A Start, But Now We Must End The War On Aviation By Cutting Air Passenger Duty




With the government’s announcement that Heathrow will finally get a third runway, it is time to end the decades-old war against aviation by slashing Air Passenger Duty too

About this time every year, my Texan wife and I glance at the calendar and realise, with dread, that the time has come to book plane tickets to the States for Christmas. To be clear, the dread has nothing to do with visiting my in-laws, whom I love very much – no, what ties my stomach in knots every autumn is the nagging question of how much money the British government intends to extort from me for the privilege of flying away from this rainy island for a couple of weeks of Texas sunshine.

Every year, Air Passenger Duty – that invidious, regressive, anti-business tax – creeps ever upward. And while the government may deign to excuse certain people from this extortion (children under sixteen were made exempt this year, in a blaze of self-congratulatory glory), for the rest of us APD keeps on inching upward. At a time when falling oil prices should mean that air fares reach historic lows, in Britain at least the cost of air travel is kept artificially high thanks to this ill-conceived tax – by far the highest in the developed world.

And why? Primarily as a sloppy wet governmental kiss to environmentalists, who some time ago decided that nothing poses a greater threat to the Earth than a working class person enjoying a holiday in Florida, or taking a cheap excursion to one of the sunnier parts of Europe. Air Passenger Duty is nothing so much as the collective howl of outrage from well-heeled leftist environmentalists that poor people are forgetting their place (i.e. receiving benefits and being thankful for them) and daring to travel the world as wealthy people did before them.

Remember the leftist credo, everybody: Fashionable celebrities flying private jets to Davos to moralise about carbon emissions made by the rest of us = good. Nasty working class folk flying Ryanair for a fortnight in Lanzarote or a stag weekend in Riga = bad.

Now that the government has taken the painful and very belated decision to proceed with the expansion of London’s Heathrow Airport (something which should have happened a long time ago) there will be inevitable calls for punishing new environmental levies to offset the terrible “damage” that is supposedly wrought when the state takes its jackboot off the throat of the aviation industry. There will likely be calls to raise Air Passenger Duty even further to help pay for this crucial national investment, even though the exorbitant tax already places Britain at a huge comparative disadvantage.

The government must resist any and all calls to raise APD. In fact, there could be few clearer signs that this government is committed to championing UK aviation and supporting the economy through the uncertainty of Brexit than a bold, dramatic cut in Air Passenger Duty from the current level of £13 short haul / £ 73 long haul / £146 premium cabin rates back down to the single digits. When my wife and I connect in Houston or Dallas Fort Worth on our way from London to the Rio Grande Valley, we pay the state of Texas no more than a few dollars for the privilege of transiting through DFW or George Bush Intercontinental airport – and both of those hubs put London’s Heathrow and Gatwick to shame.

At a time when the government is considering cutting Corporation Tax as low as 10% as an incentive to firms to invest, grow and remain in the United Kingdom, we should not be discouraging business executives and holidaymakers (72% of whom come to the UK by air) from choosing Britain by mugging them before they even step off the jet bridge. Cutting Corporation Tax is great, but the government should not forget individuals, who currently labour under all manner of punitive stealth taxes and would greatly welcome the relief. Neither should the government forget the aviation industry, which is every bit as vital as shipping to an island nation, and which for too long has been stymied and suppressed by cowardly politicians who refused to take critical decisions in the national interest.

With the long-overdue decision to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport, the government has finally called an end to years of dithering and inaction and made a necessary decision in support of the economy. But the benefits of this decision could yet be killed in the crib unless Britain also signals its intention to stop being the high-tax, anti-aviation country which prioritises impractical, virtue-signalling environmentalism over necessary infrastructure investment and tax reform.

There is no earthly reason why you or I should have to pay £73 for the privilege of taking off from Heathrow Airport, whether it has two runways or three. And if Theresa May and Philip Hammond are serious about signalling that Britain is open for business then slashing this one small but immensely harmful tax would be a great place to start.





Top and Bottom Images: Pixabay

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2 thoughts on “Expanding Heathrow Is A Start, But Now We Must End The War On Aviation By Cutting Air Passenger Duty

  1. thelyniezian October 31, 2016 / 5:39 PM

    On the one hand, I can see some merit in abolishing the air passenger duty as a regressive tax. On the other hand, I am not the least bit in favour of a third runway at Heathrow Airport, nor of your trite and somewhat unfair dismissal of “left wing environmentalists”. The environmental costs of air travel, and of building a third runway at Heathrow, cannot simply be dismissed in favour of short-to-medium term economic arguments which casually assume “business as usual”. I don’t necessarily find penalising everyone for happening to want to fly somewhere is the best way of mitigating these problems, especially if it penalises those on lower incomes. One possible idea for a replacement iss the idea of a “frequent flier levy”which taxes people progressively based on the amount of times they fly rather than imposing a blanket levy on each and every flight, whichdoes hit those on lower incomes hardest. (Of course there might be problems with this, from the cost involved in collating/sharing the data with HMRC, possible arguments to be made on the impact of business, and what it reveals about governments keeping track of our movements- which apparently they do anyway. (Perhaps it might help out low-cost airlines (which rely more on point to point flights) and smaller regional airports, without having to make the case for Heathrow expansion

    Suggesting that thisin any way is a bout the left having no concern for the poor though, does seem somewhat disingenuous. Even low-cost, short-haulf jaunts to Europe are something of a luxury and one which is probably less than liekly to be afforded by those unemployed or members of the “precariat” who are struggling simply to make ends meet, more worried about putting food on the table and paying the rent than planning their next holiday to Spain.

    As to Heathrow… well, that seems to me to in the interests, most largely of the airport itself and those major airlines thatfavour the hub-and-spoke model. I don’t see how it is the least bit libertarian to favour a plan that will lead to the compulsory purchase and demolition of several hundred homes, or the possibibility that this might require government funding. And, as I said, the environmental issues (which may be over- or understated by some) are still very real.

    Comparisons to the States are a little awkward too. They are a much larger andmore diffuse country than we are. They have both the space for mumerous, muchlarger airport hubs and a greater need for air travel, some of which might require them.

    Is there not any other more radical solutions or proposals than simply increasing the size of a hub airport and the destruction of communities and damage to the environment? Such as wondering if there is a continued need for hub-and-spioke methods of organizing flights (given recent developments) or whether it is poissible to consider alternative methods for travel in some cases (train? sea?), or if new communications technologies might reduce the need for business travel by air?

    (And that is not considering arguiments that don’t involve abolishing capitalism outright, which you probably would not agree with.)


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