Thursday, March 26, 2015

Time to scrap the Air Passenger Duty

A bit of advice before we begin: If you've never had a wisdom tooth out, ladies and gents, let me warn you. It hurts. This is a pain that will be with you for over a week. After the first few days, when you stop spitting blood, it will be just a dull ache that aspirin or acetaminophen can take care of, but it will still be difficult to eat solid food. Or any food, for that matter.
OK? On with the show:
Here in the U.K., and in England especially, an excise tax called the Air Passenger Duty (APD) is charged to travelers flying out of a U.K. airport. It was arranged in bands labelled A, B, C and D. As of next month, travelers to the U.S. or Caribbean will be paying an extra £142 ($212), in band B, for the privilege. Do you understand now why I haven't been home for over three years?
The Government instituted the APD in 2007, citing the environmental impact of the airline industry, but the APD does not take into account the efficiency of a plane. Assuming I was to fly to Boston on an old 747-200 or a DC-10, the duty I would pay would be the same as if I was flying on a new plane using up-to-date, carbon-cutting technology like the 747-8, the 787 or the A350.
Besides which, George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has admitted, in a letter to the Airport Council International that was leaked to The Daily Mail in 2011, that the bogus duty is there just to finance the Treasury, meaning that any environmental concerns expressed to justify it are complete hokum.
So the Government admits that APD raises revenue, but expects us to believe that this is not simply a cash cow, and that money raised for them is good for us.  When was the last time you trusted any Government tax to be fair and just and to have a reason for existing? 
PricewaterhouseCoopers, inasmuch as they may have encouraged corporate tax cheats, helping to set up tax shelters in Luxembourg for them, and may have been exposed as the largest donor to "Red" Ed Miliband and his Labour campaign, have some credibility for number-crunching.  Their 2013 study of the APD determined that tourism revenue would go up with the abolishment of the APD, sparking a rise in economic output, investment and exports.
The Treasury would get more in its coffers by abolishing the APD.   So why is the Chancellor clinging to it like Aesop's dog with the bone? Why is David Cameron letting him continue with this tax which is setting the U.K. apart from the rest of Europe?
In fact, in 2011, Continental Airlines threatened to cease its Belfast to Newark flight if Northern Ireland did not scrap its APD—which, golly gee, it soon did.
Why should a North American come to London? Far better to fly to Paris, base yourself there, and take the Eurostar to London for a day or two. You might still pay the equivalent of the APD or more in train and hotel costs, but at least you'll get more bang for your bucks. The French won't slap you with a three-figure duty just for flying out of their country.
Last year, Osborne announced the removal of bands C and D from the APD, effective next month, so that the highest charge now will be the £142 of band B. That is not enough. It is still an unfair charge at a time when flying is expensive enough. Why, suddenly, are people being punished for flying up to 4,000 miles but not beyond that?  I cannot imagine on what grounds anyone can defend this cynical ruse. (Bonus points if you can do it with a straight face.)
Please sign this petition (just click on the purple words "this petition") and be counted, dear reader, as one who is fed up with punitive, nonsensical government taxes.

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