Scrap passenger tax, says Ryanair chief as airline announces new routes

Ryanair's Michael O'Leary as he launches this summer 2013 schedule for Scotland. Picture: Universal News and Sport
Ryanair's Michael O'Leary as he launches this summer 2013 schedule for Scotland. Picture: Universal News and Sport
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BUDGET airline Ryanair has announced eight new routes from Edinburgh and Glasgow Prestwick to destinations across Europe.

• Eight new routes have been added from Edinburgh and Prestwick

• The airline is expected to carry three million passengers and sustain 3,000 jobs next summer

• Further announcements on growth are expected

• Chief executive Michael O’Leary also backed calls to scrap air passenger duty

From next summer, the airline will carry three million passengers and sustain 3,000 jobs with the additional flights, chief executive Michael O’Leary claimed.

The new routes will fly from Edinburgh to Bologna and Cagliari in Italy, Beziers in France, Santander in Spain, the Greek island of Corfu and Katowice in Poland. Two additional routes will fly from Prestwick to Rzeszow and Warsaw in Poland.

Mr O’Leary said the new routes will begin in around six months, while nine other routes from the airports will increase in frequency.

The announcement ends a protracted row between Ryanair and Edinburgh airport’s previous operator BAA over costs and charges. The stand-off saw the airline cancel five routes in February that were due to start last summer. The airline cut a further eight winter routes in March.

However, with the airport now run by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), an agreement characterised as a “rapprochement” was reached. Speaking at a press conference in Edinburgh yesterday, Mr O’Leary said that further announcements on growth are likely.

“We have eight new routes out of Glasgow and Edinburgh for summer 2013, growing both airports by around 400,000 passengers that should lead to 400 new jobs spread evenly between the airports,” he said.

“We’ve been very impressed by GIP. They are very committed to growth and we’ve been negotiating now for a couple of months. I don’t think today’s announcement will be the last because, given their commitment, they want to grow the airport quickly and that’s a breath of fresh air after dealing with BAA who only wanted to fatten profits for its eventual sale.”

The new routes effectively return the number of routes to 38 from Edinburgh, while there will be 27 routes from Prestwick.

Ryanair claim that this will deliver a combined total of more than three million passengers and sustain a further 3,000 “on-site jobs” and both airports.

Mr O’Leary also backed calls made by all of Scotland’s main airports for the UK government to scrap air passenger duty. Last month Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh airports commissioned a report that claimed the charge could lead to a drop in both passengers and tourism spending.

The tax could cost the Scottish economy £210 million a year in lost tourism spending by 2016 and could lead to 2.1 million fewer passengers in Scotland’s airports by then, the report claimed.

The majority of MSPs believe the Scottish Parliament should have control over the aviation tax.

The APD rate depends on a passenger’s final destination. There are four bands based on the distance between London and the capital city of the destination country, ranging from £13 to £184.

Mr O’Leary said: “I think APD (air passenger duty) has done huge damage to Scottish tourism and Scottish jobs. The problem is it has really hit the domestic routes.

“We used to carry about 300,000 passengers a year between London and Prestwick but we closed that route because you can’t fly passengers at £10 when the Government is taking £13 in tax. So I think it’s important for Scotland that APD is scrapped, particularly for domestic routes.

“It’s very important Scotland gets control of that tax and whether they get independence or not, the Government needs to reverse or scrap it.”

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said: “The whole purpose of Edinburgh Airport is to connect Scotland to the rest of the world and we do that by working with the airlines that offer the biggest choice of routes and carriers.

“So when an airline the size of Ryanair isn’t getting on with the airport, that isn’t good for anyone and changing that was one of the focuses since GIP bought the airport. And today marks the successful re-establishment of a good relationship and the fruits of that labour are the new destinations and increased passenger numbers.”

Mr Dewar added his voice to the criticism of APD.

Mr O’Leary also gave his backing for Prestwick airport, which has been up for sale since March: “I think Prestwick is growing again and has a viable future. We have an unbreakable commitment to Prestwick.”

It is anticipated that the expansion by Ryanair will interest potential buyers. Prestwick CEO Iain Cochrane said: “We’re delighted with Ryanair’s latest commitment to grow its business from Glasgow Prestwick which is another sign of its continuing confidence in our airport. The decision to increase its Prestwick operations for next summer, along with new routes to Rzeszow and Warsaw is great news both for the airport and the region too.”