Ryanair demands NI abolishes air passenger duty

Ryanair demands NI abolishes air passenger duty

Ryanair has called for the abolition of "outrageous" air taxes in the North before any decision is made on operating European flights from Belfast.

It is paying €17 in air passenger duty (APD) per passenger and senior managers said the cost eats up profits and heightens the commercial risks of flying further.

The low-cost Irish airline confirmed that it will operate a four times daily service to London Gatwick from Belfast International from March and said five more routes are to follow in October.

Those destinations have not been decided and could concentrate on UK airports if movement is not secured on cutting tax, Ryanair chief commercial officer David O'Brien said.

He added: "We are not asking the government for money, we are asking them to stop taking money from us and if they don't we will make decisions on that basis."

Dublin has abolished its air passenger duty and has seen massive increases in passenger numbers.

Many travellers from the North use services there where fares can be lower because of the different tax system.

However removing APD could result in a large reduction in the block grant from Westminster which runs public services in Northern Ireland.

A total of three Ryanair aircraft representing an investment of US$300m will be based in Belfast.

More than one million customers are expected to use Ryanair in Belfast annually, supporting 750 jobs.

The Gatwick slots became available after they were given up by Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus as part of its take-over by the International Airlines Group (IAG).

Ryanair already flies from City of Derry Airport in Northern Ireland.

Recently Dutch flagship carrier KLM announced plans to fly from Belfast to Amsterdam, there is an established service to New York and Stormont politicians are keen to expand international connections.

Mr O'Brien said he was not making any threats to the powersharing political administration in Belfast over tax but said the airline would make its decisions on a commercial basis.

He added that, with thousands of extra tourists expected to use the routes, one alternative to abolishing the tax could be additional payments from the all-island Tourism Ireland promotional body to help cancel out the effect of the tax.

The senior executive added it would be a missed opportunity for Northern Ireland if APD was not removed.

"If this tax is going to be there, we might as well minimise the amount of flying we have to do to carry passengers, flying for less than an hour rather than flying three hours over to Berlin or wherever it is.

"If you fly less distances on established routes against carriers that are unable to compete against you it seems to make more economic sense rather than take a punt at flying three times as far for unknown returns."

He added: "One of the tragedies for Northern Ireland aviation is that the airports here do an excellent job to achieve efficiencies and low cost bases which is necessary to compensate for an outrageous tax imposition, which is a multiple of the cost base the airport is able to achieve."

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