13 MAY 2019
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Perish the thought Scotland’s first minister should be bandwagon-climbing but linking her government’s decision to scrap its commitment to removing air passenger duty (APD) north of the border with the climate change movement looks like a political move rather than a serious consideration.
Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party promised when it was voted into power in 2016 to halve and possibly abolish APD altogether. Last week, that pledge was abandoned, with Sturgeon citing the need to cut carbon emissions.
In the furore that has followed the APD announcement, comments by Scottish Passenger Agents' Association (SPAA) president Ken McLeod are particularly worthy of a wider audience.
"Not only has the Scottish government failed to deliver on this key pledge to provide tax breaks to the aviation industry, its position on issues affecting its roll-out has completely altered,” he said.
"We were told that the significant delays to the introduction of a devolved Air Passenger Duty were as a result of EU state aid rules, and today Nicola Sturgeon cites the need to cut carbon emissions as part of the effort to tackle climate change.
"Studies have shown that direct emissions from aviation account for about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions: there are many other polluters which account for far greater levels of emissions."
McLeod said the move was “bad news” for Scottish passengers and Scotland’s travel industry, and claimed airlines were already moving routes elsewhere, thereby reducing Scotland's connectivity.
His views were echoed by AGS Airports chief executive Derek Provan. AGS owns and manages Aberdeen International and Glasgow airports. Provan said: “The Scottish government’s decision to abandon its manifesto pledge to cut aviation tax is a huge blow for our airports and for Scotland’s connectivity.”
On the economic argument, he said: “Over the course of the past year alone, we have seen the withdrawal by airlines of almost 30 routes from Aberdeen and Glasgow airports because of APD.
“We need only look to Inverness, which is currently exempt from APD, to see how airlines can and do respond. British Airways withdrew capacity at Aberdeen while adding services in Inverness, which benefits from the lack of APD.
“By dropping plans to cut this tax on passengers, we are missing a very real opportunity to secure new routes and, more worryingly, maintain existing services which play a vital role in supporting our economy."
On the climate change argument, he added: “Together with the wider industry, we have always said growth in aviation can and must go hand in hand with action on the environment but scrapping this policy will do nothing to reduce global CO2 emissions.
“As a global sector by nature, the only way to achieve this is through international action, and that’s why over 190 countries have signed up to a carbon offsetting scheme that will address increases in total emissions from international aviation above 2020 levels.”
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar also joined the fray, saying: "We've gone from personal commitments to all-out cancellation in the space of just two weeks, which shows just how reactionary this decision is.
"It does not show leadership and means airports and airlines have been led down a path of failed promises for three years by this Scottish government. It also raises questions about continued support for our tourism sector when airlines have already walked away from Scotland due to this failure to deliver."
He pointed out Edinburgh Airport had previously published a report which predicted halving the departure tax would create almost 4,000 jobs and add £1bn to the Scottish economy.
The wider APD debate is also affecting different airports in different ways. Newcastle in the past has highlighted fears proposals to cut the tax in Scotland which could see passengers heading north of the border rather than using the local airport.
Thus there are two sides to any argument. In Scotland, the Greens and Liberal Democrats have supported Sturgeon’s stand. BTN believes it is short-sighted given the rapid advances in the industry aimed at protecting the environment. Travel begets business and business produces profits, to the benefit of all.
Would-be trendy politicians playing to the gallery produce little but the hot air that they complain about.
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