Green groups slam Government proposals to cut air passenger duty amid FlyBe rescue plans

Green groups have criticised Ministers for considering measures to cut air passenger duty on domestic return flights, accusing the government of placing short-term plans to rescue FlyBe from collapse over its long-term climate targets.

Image: Ardfern, CC BY 3.0 

Image: Ardfern, CC BY 3.0 

The Government confirmed today (15 January) that it will consider scrapping or reducing a £26 levy that is currently applied to domestic flights within the UK.

The mechanism intends to discourage flights where journeys by train are available, while funnelling investment into decarbonising and modernising assets and infrastructure across the national aviation sector.

Troubled British airline FlyBe this week agreed on a rescue deal with the Government, which will determine a plan to pay its tax debts – widely reported to exceed £100m. Reconsideration of the air passenger duty forms a part of this plan, given that FlyBe is estimated to receive a £106m air passenger duty bill annually.

As a short-term solution, some of the airline’s owed air passenger duty will be deferred. Longer-term measures around the mechanism are now expected to be included in the Budget on 11 March.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom has said the plan and all of its measures are necessary to keep FlyBe operating. The airline employs more than 2,400 staff and serves millions of passengers annually acros 170+ destinations. 

“Delighted that we have reached an agreement with Flybe’s shareholders to keep the company operating, ensuring that UK regions remain connected. This will be welcome news for Flybe’s staff, customers and creditors and we will continue the hard work to ensure a sustainable future,” Leadsom said.

The plan has been co-developed and will be jointly overseen by the Department for Transport (DfT), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Treasury.

In addition to the measures around air passenger duty, it includes a further cash injection from FlyBe’s owners and shareholders, including Virgin Atlantic and Stobart Group, plus the potential for a government loan in the coming months. But it is the air passenger duty element which has angered green groups.

“It would be completely unacceptable and even reckless if the government cut air passenger duty on domestic flights,” Friends of the Earth’s campaigner Jenny Bates said.

“These short UK trips are exactly the ones we need to avoid in the drive to cut aviation climate emissions to help prevent climate breakdown. Instead the government could invest more in our rail system and make such trips more affordable.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said reducing air passenger duty was "utterly inconsistent with any serious commitment" to tackle climate change, including the Government’s 2050 net-zero target.

"Domestic flights need to be reduced, not made cheaper," she tweeted.

Leadsom claims that any changes to the duty will be made in line with the UK’s legally binding climate targets.

Are low-carbon aviation policies ready for take-off?

Although aviation accounts for just 2% of global annual emissions, it is a notoriously hard-to-abate and rapidly growing sector. Emissions from the sector increased by 76.1% between 1990 and 2012, with further increases forecast through to 2030.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) had urged the UK Government to include international shipping in is 2050 net-zero target, given that it was excluded from the Climate Change Act 2008’s original remit. Both the original and updated 2050 targets accounted for domestic flights.

But Ministers defied this advice, as well as a CCC recommendation to cap growth in demand for both domestic and international flights.

The Government is relying instead on its £343m aviation sector deal, which includes a £125m pot for low-carbon aviation; plus two additional schemes under which £300m and £80m are earmarked respectively. These measures were recently built upon with a DfT pledge to develop a plan for aligning “every mode of transport” with net-zero.

Green groups, however, have argued that these measures will not be sufficient for decarbonising in line with the Paris Agreement or the recommendations of the IPCC. Greta Thunberg has called the UK’s approach to emissions from international aviation “very creative carbon accounting”, with similar sentiment being expressed by Transport & Environment (T&E).

Sarah George



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