Flights to China ‘less than 5 years away if tax is halved’

Edinburgh airport. Picture; contributed
Edinburgh airport. Picture; contributed
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A LONG sought-after air route between Scotland and China could be launched in less than five years if air passenger duty (APD) is cut, Edinburgh Airport has claimed.

Chief executive Gordon Dewar said the Scottish Government’s plans to halve the tax from 2018 would be the catalyst for many new routes.

Mr Dewar said he expected a China link to be established by 2021, but it could come much sooner if APD is reduced from the current £85 for such flights.

Ministers have been trying to woo Chinese airlines to Scotland for at least five years because they view China as a major trading partner. The number of Chinese visitors to Scotland has doubled each year over that period.

Manchester became the first UK airport outside London to win a Chinese link when flights to Beijing got under way in June.

Plans for new legislation to enable an APD reduction are expected to be announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood on Tuesday.

However, the minority Scottish Government is likely to need backing from the Conservatives because the other parties are firmly opposed to lowering the tax.

Finance spokesman Murdo Fraser admitted that his party could be persuaded.

He said: “We have always argued for reform of APD, and will continue to pursue it.

“We want to change it into a more progressive tax, and would like to see it to be destination-linked to travel between different geographical blocks.

“However, we are open to other options, and will analyse any proposals that the Scottish Government puts forward.”

Mike Robinson, of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, said: “A blanket cut of all APD simply to see a single route established is a very blunt approach.

“Far better mechanisms already exist to incentivise route development.

“The only certainty if the Scottish Government goes ahead with this cut is we will have a massive hole in government budgets and increased damage to the climate.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “UK APD is one of the most expensive taxes of its kind in the world.

“It continues to act as a barrier to Scotland’s ability to secure new direct international routes and maintain existing ones, helping to boost our international connectivity.

“This is particularly important in light of the economic uncertainty following the EU referendum outcome.

“We are currently taking forward the preparation of legislative proposals for the APD replacement tax, which is due to come into effect on April 1, 2018.

“Our plan, taking into account the responses to our recent consultations, is to start reducing the overall burden of a new tax in Scotland from April 2018, implement a 50 per cent reduction in full by the end of the current Scottish Parliament, and then abolish the tax entirely when public finances allow.

“This a fundamental component of our efforts to improve Scotland’s international connectivity.”

It comes after the Evening News told yesterday how the airport was planning to build a new access road to the terminal.

Mr Dewar said millions of pounds would be spent on the project in a bid to end traffic jams stretching back on to the A8.

It is also hoped that the road would prove a catalyst for the long-awaited international business gateway.