Airlines are turning up the pressure to reduce air passenger duty as the Scottish Government looks for a way to get one of its key policies through parliament in the face of strong political opposition.
Conservatives are not convinced of its merits, while the other parties fear the environmental impact of more air traffic.
Finance secretary Derek Mackay has said ministers intend to press ahead with their plans, despite the SNP losing its majority in last month’s election. Halving air passenger duty (APD) is expected to be included in the draft Scottish budget this autumn.
The planned cut would reduce APD per passenger from £13 to £6.50 for flights up to 2,000 miles, and from £73 to £37 for longer journeys. APD is charged only on flights from UK airports.
EasyJet, Scotland’s biggest airline, has revealed it has now made a written commitment of its plan to increase flights by 30 per cent if APD is halved.
Airlines are pushing for the APD cut to be confirmed by this autumn to give them 18 months to plan extra flights and routes to coincide with the reduction being introduced in April 2018.
British Airways and Thomson Airways are also lobbying for the reduction, but some airlines have said APD has not affected their expansion in Scotland.
They include Jet2, which has announced it will increase routes from Edinburgh by four to a record 29 next year.
EasyJet UK director Sophie Dekkers said she was optimistic about the APD cut, saying: “I’m told it will still probably go through, but it won’t be plain sailing.”
The airline’s written commitment would add 1.5 million passengers to its current 5.5 million a year in Scotland.
Dekkers said this would come from a combination of more frequent flights and new routes, including to Germany and Spain.
However, she warned: “If there is a 10 per cent reduction, there will be no change in our capacity. The Scottish Government will be cautious about watering that down.”
Ryanair said it was more sceptical of ministers’ intentions. Its spokesman said: “The SNP had already backtracked on APD before, by delaying planned cuts until after 2018, and then only by 50 per cent.
“Perhaps this affords them the opportunity to avoid having to cut APD at all?
“We have given written commitments to grow our Scottish traffic if APD is removed in its entirety.”
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar believes both Conservative and Labour MSPs can be won over by the benefits to the economy and jobs of cutting APD. He said the aviation and tourism industries and business groups such as chambers of commerce would be “talking to a lot of MSPs” in an attempt to gain their support.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have made it clear we have an ambition to deliver this policy and we will work across the parliament to do so.”