Air Passenger Duty: Green or Just Mean?

Last Updated Nov 3, 2009 10:29 AM EST

Why has Air Passenger Duty gone up? It doesn't seem to have any support from the industry it is targeting.

Thomas Cook, the travel agency, objects on behalf of passengers, while Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic is pressing the Tories to do away with it when if they get in next year. On Travelmole, Easyjet boss Andy Harrison is quoted as calling the APD a "daft tax that the government promised to reform. It [the government] broke its promise and broke its promise ont he average family instead."

An Easyjet survey suggests passengers aren't against the idea of a levy to tackle climate change, but feel the APD's exemption of private jets, cargo planes and foreign passengers is a glaring omission if the environment is the primary concern. Taxed on distances travelled, it's not a reward for fuel efficiency, argues Charles Starmer-Smith, who has 10 reasons why it should be scrapped:

  1. Increases are disproportionate -- a 118 per cent tax hike for passengers are set against a £17bn loss among the world's airlines last year.
  2. Private jets don't pay, nor do cargo carriers.
  3. The banding system hits the Caribbean unfairly.
  4. Premium economy flyers -- often families on their way to, erm, the Caribbean, will pay nearly double, but they don't get twice the legroom. Tour operators claim they may have to do away with the premium option.
  5. Presented as an eco-centric tax, APD returns haven't been spent on environmental causes. If passengers are already paying, they may not offset emissions (offset cynics might not think this is such a bad thing...)
  6. Regional passengers may have to pay twice if they need to 'jump off' in London -- so they may just fly directly to, say, Amsterdam instead. Although they might consider taking the train for short-haul journeys (if they can afford it).
  7. It could damage the economy -- and comes just as Britain is gearing up for the 2012 Olympics.
It's difficult to see past the idea that the Treasury needs to rob Peter to pay Paul -- originally advertised as an environmentally-driven levy, Chancellor Darling's recent comments indicate the only thing APD will offset will be the bank bail-outs. In the past, environmental groups have complained the government's swung too far in the other direction, letting air travel off too lightly. Would they say that now?