Edinburgh Airport boss urges government to stop stalling over air tax cut

The head of Scotland's busiest airport has called on MSPs to be given an indicative vote to test support for a controversial air tax cut to boost flights.

Edinburgh Airport boss Gordon Dewar says the SNP's passenger duty plan should be debated at Holyrood. Photograph: Michael Gillen

Edinburgh’s chief executive Gordon Dewar is desperate to end the logjam over ministers’ plans to halve air passenger duty (APD).

He warned that the airport’s growth this year would slow significantly from 2018, when passenger numbers rose by 6.5 per cent to 14.3m.

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Budget airline Norwegian blamed its decision to axe US routes from Edinburgh in March on the failure to implement the tax cut.

Dewar’s plan received an enthusiastic welcome from the Scottish Conservatives, who back the reduction for long-haul flights. But other opposition parties said it would harm the environment and mainly benefit the rich.

APD is £13 per passenger on shorter flights from the UK and £78 for trips over 2,000 miles.

The SNP plan has stalled over the need to win continued tax exemption from the EU for vulnerable Inverness Airport. The minority government has also sought support from the anti-tax cut Scottish Greens to get its Budget passed.

Dewar challenged ministers: “Are you serious about your policy? Even if you can’t guarantee success, at least give it a go, particularly when you’ve promised some of the biggest air carriers in Europe that you were going to do it.

“I’m confident we could get a majority at Holyrood for a cut in APD if it was debated as a single issue.

“The version we get I don’t quite know, whether it’s cutting it across the board, halving it or doing it in stages – but by not having the debate at all absolutely guarantees it won’t happen.”

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Jamie Greene said: “Despite making a manifesto commitment to reduce APD at the last election, all the SNP has offered is excuses. I would welcome the opportunity to test support and urge the Scottish Government to bring forward a vote at the earliest possible opportunity.”

But Scottish Greens finance spokesman Patrick Harvie said: “The industry’s grumpiness is all down to the SNP, who, having cosied up to them and promised them the world, then found themselves unable to deliver.

“Cutting the tax would benefit wealthy frequent fliers and worsen our climate emissions.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats transport spokesperson Mike Rumbles said: “Aviation can’t get a free pass because it is the least environmentally friendly form of travel.”

The Scottish Government welcomed Dewar’s plan and said it “remained committed” to halving the tax, “and abolishing it when resources allow”.

However, solving issues over the Inverness exemption was “crucial to ensure the devolved powers are not compromised”.