U.K. Unveils Plans to Cut Air Passenger Duty on Domestic Flights

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out plans to cut air passenger duty on domestic flights to “support connectivity across the country.”

The government will launch a consultation this spring to reform the levy for internal U.K. flights, the Department for Transport announced Wednesday. This could mean a “return leg exemption” so passengers only pay for their outward flight, or a new lower domestic rate.

The proposal forms part of the so-called Union Connectivity Review, led by Network Rail Chairman Peter Hendy, which has been tasked with exploring how transport can better connect all parts of the U.K.

It follows the collapse of Flybe at the start of the coronavirus pandemic that severed links to far-flung parts of the country. A plan to revive Flybe suffered a setback last week when a hedge fund backer walked away from the project, according to U.K. media reports.

But a cut in domestic APD would benefit only a tiny proportion of routes and do little to answer the concerns of carriers that have demanded sweeping measures to revive U.K. aviation, at a time when some European rivals are benefiting from billions of euros in state funding.

It will also stir the ire of environmental campaigners who regard any support for air travel as a retrograde step as other forms of transport cut carbon emissions faster.

Johnson said in a statement: “It’s now time to build back better in a way which brings every corner of the U.K. closer together. We will harness the incredible power of infrastructure to level up parts of our country that have too long been left off the transport map.”

The government first announced a consultation on APD in March 2020, but this was delayed due to the pandemic, the Department of Transport said. In an emailed statement, it pledged to “continue to decarbonise domestic aviation as part of our ambition to reach net zero, including through mandating the use of sustainable aviation fuel.”

The Airport Operators Association welcomed the move, saying it “offers a glimmer of hope for the future.” But Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace U.K., said in an emailed statement: “After the fuel duty freeze and rail fare rises, cutting duty on domestic flights would continue our nonsensical trend of the higher the carbon, the lower the tax.”

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