Leader: Airlines should be more grounded

SCRAPPING air passenger duty would find few opponents among the travelling public. So the campaign launched by four airlines from the UK and the Irish Republic for its abolition could count on considerable public support.

The tax, introduced in 1994 on flights originating in the UK, was an irritant at first. But it has been progressively raised over the years, so that it is now an expensive irritant – ranging between £24 and £170 depending on length of flight and class of seat chosen.

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However, the proposal may not be quite as universally popular as its promoters assume. First, the call for its abolition comes during a period of intense strain on the public finances. Its abolition would beg the question of what other tax or levy may be imposed to make good the £2 billion shortfall in revenue. The alternatives may prove less popular – UK airlines, for example, charge no VAT.

Airport Passenger Tax also enjoys support from the green lobby who would see its abolition as a step backwards in discouraging an environmentally harmful form of travel. It may well be that the tax damages the UK economy by deterring overseas visitors. But the same might be said for any of the ways in which airlines impose charges or levies on passengers, such as hand luggage, baggage over a certain weight and other imposts. If the tax is a discouragement, so, too, must be the extras that airline operators charge while luring passengers with basic seat prices. If concern for the economy is so high, airlines might usefully start by putting their own house in order.