DEPUTY First Minister John Swinney has launched a consultation on plans to halve and eventually abolish Air Passenger Duty, in a move he claims will boost the Scottish economy.
He visited Edinburgh Airport to set out why the Scottish Government wants to use new powers coming to Holyrood to slash the tax paid by passengers leaving on international flights.
But environmental campaigners said the cut would incentivise people to use the “least sustainable” transport option.
And Labour accused the SNP of cutting taxes for “the richest few”.
Mr Swinney said Scotland was already an attractive destination for business and inbound tourism and it was important to capitalise further on the opportunities that existed.
He 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.
“Our plan to begin reducing the overall burden of the tax in Scotland by 50 per cent from April 2018, implement that reduction in full by the end of the next Scottish Parliament, and then abolish it entirely when public finances allow, is a fundamental component of our efforts to improve Scotland’s international connectivity.”
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said APD was a regressive tax that hampers growth.
He said: “Edinburgh Airport will continue to make the case and highlight the benefits of a 50 per cent cut to APD in one move in April 2018.” But Mike Robinson, of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, said the cut in APD – which generates £230 million a year – came as the Scottish Government was cutting spending on measures to tackle climate change.
He said: “Air travel has the highest climate emissions per km of any form of transport. For the government to risk £230m per year of certain tax revenue for an optimistic promise of future wealth creation, is high risk.
“The numbers flying today are higher than ever, so it’s a tax that customers are prepared to tolerate, in an industry that is regarded as under-taxed, so scrapping it makes no sense.”
Labour’s Jackie Baillie said at a time when the government was making cuts, the priority should not be making airline tickets a little cheaper.
She said: “The SNP’s airline tax cut will help the richest few whilst working-class families continue to lose out.
“Labour wouldn’t make this SNP tax cut for the rich. Instead, we would use the money the government has set aside for the APD cut to help first-time buyers save for a deposit.”
Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said the APD move was a “brazen” announcement which would increase climate emissions.
He said: “It represents a further tax break for an industry that already pays next to nothing. Unlike every other form of transport, airlines don’t pay a penny of fuel tax.”