Mrs Long was the only Northern Ireland MP to attend the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee’s Air Transport Strategy debate in Westminster Hall today (Thursday), which addressed the issues following up on the Committee’s inquiry of last year, which looked at the importance of the air connectivity to the local economy. During her speech, she again highlighted the issue of short-haul APD, as well as the need for a decision hub expansion for the UK as a whole.
“There are no realistic alternatives to air travel, especially for business travel, in and out of Northern Ireland.
“UK economic strategy still focuses on the south-east as the economic driver of the economy and so access to London as well as through London to international destinations is vital, if we are to grow the private sector, increase exports and develop tourism. Slow decision-making around hub capacity in London has an impact on Northern Ireland, increasing pressure for landing slots at Heathrow and risking a reduction in the frequency of flights into the main hub, if these slots are reallocated for more lucrative long-haul destinations.
“In addition, APD was identified as a significant cost burden on local business. Though introduced as an environmental tax, it has risen steeply and is no longer linked in any meaningful way to climate change. The lack of through carriers in Northern Ireland also means that passengers starting a journey in Northern Ireland will often have to pay short-haul APD on the leg to a UK hub and then a further APD on the international leg of their journey, which disadvantages the public here. Whilst I welcome the reduction and devolution of long-haul APD on direct long-haul flights, saving our one direct flight to the US, it affects about 2 per cent of passengers. Studies by Oxford Economics and PWC have indicated that revenue to Government through increased economic growth could actually increase if APD were abolished and so I renewed my call that the Government should do their own cost-benefit analysis in light of the evidence presented.
“I also recognised the environmental and social impact that aviation has, particularly on those who live near an airport under a flight path and raised again the need for an independent body to monitor and map noise and other environmental factors at airports, and to oversee the various compensatory measures, in order to increase public confidence that when decisions are taken, it is based on evidence independent of those with a commercial interest in the outcomes.”