Campaign to halt airport tax rises

Airlines and holiday companies today launched a campaign calling on the Government to halt any further rises in airport departure tax.

The protesters, led by travel organisation Abta and including British Airways and airport operator BAA, have written to Chancellor George Osborne ahead of his Budget later this month.

The organisations have also invited members of the public to back its stance in a Facebook campaign.

Campaigners say air passenger duty (APD) has risen 26-fold since 1994 and it was increased again last autumn, with those flying to the Caribbean in particular facing steep increases.

Abta has announced the results of a survey of 2,046 adults which showed that 63% believed APD levels were too high, with 21% saying they were about right and only 5% reckoning they were too low.

The organisations say that UK air travellers pay by far the highest levels of flight tax in Europe, with a family of four flying from the UK to Florida paying £240 in APD, while if they fly to Australia they can expect to pay £340.

That compares with £11 for an Irish family flying to the same destinations or £15 for a French family.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: "When it comes to the future of tourism in the UK, the Government's words and deeds simply do not match up.

"The Prime Minister has identified tourism as one of the top five industries to drive growth, yet aviation tax has become a punitive stealth tax. It is vital that the Government understands the impact it is having on the health of the tourism industry in the UK."

British Airways chief executive Keith Williams said: "We recognise the exceptional difficulty of the country's fiscal position and we are content to pay our fair share.

"But the UK airline industry is already the most heavily taxed in the world and any further tax burden will be counterproductive to the country's economic recovery."

Airport operator BAA said: "We must enhance the UK's attractiveness overseas by reconsidering future plans around aviation duty, as well as making visa processes more visitor-friendly.

"It's essential we don't price ourselves out of the opportunities for growth afforded by the boom in tourism across China, India and Europe.

"As well as aviation and travel, a whole host of other jobs across the leisure industry depend on people travelling to the UK, where we currently have the highest aviation taxes in the world.

"It is vital we look at the bigger picture and take decisive action to help the private sector support our recovery by making Britain a competitive magnet for tourism."

Carolyn McCall, chief executive of budget airline easyJet, said: "We want aviation taxation to be both fairer and greener. We support many of the objectives, but are concerned that the campaign does not address the issue of how the tax delivers on its environmental objectives.

"Four out of five British passengers would pay less tax under a per-plane tax, which would result in private jets, freight flights and foreign transfer passengers paying tax for the first time.

"We look forward to the Government making good on its coalition agreement promise to move from a per-passenger to a per-plane tax."