The future of flight costs to the Islands was brought into sharp focus this week with calls from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Islands’ air carrier, Loganair, for Airport Passenger Duty (APD) to be cut for island flights which depart from the mainland.
APD is due to be replaced by the Air Departure Tax (ADT) and questions on what exemptions will be available for rural communities are being raised.
Currently APD is not applied on flights from the Islands to the mainland, but passengers on flights from the mainland to the Islands must pay the levy.
Setting out the matter a spokesperson for Scottish Transport said: “Following the updated advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change – and the new 2045 target for net-zero emissions proposed as a result – the Scottish Government has taken the difficult decision that reducing Air Departure Tax (ADT) is no longer compatible with Scotland’s new emissions reduction targets.
“The UK Government and Scottish Government have agreed that the introduction of ADT will be deferred beyond April 2020 to ensure it is not devolved in a defective state.
“To protect rural communities, a solution has to be found to the Highlands and Islands exemption before this tax can be taken on.
“The Scottish Government will continue to work with the UK Government and the H&I Working Group to find a solution.
“The UK Government will maintain the application of Air Passenger Duty in Scotland, and the current Highlands and Islands exemption.
“The Scottish Government are reviewing a range of policies across government to ensure we do all we can to support the public sector, businesses, communities and individuals to meet our shared climate responsibilities.
“The Scottish Parliament has never been able to use powers over aviation tax due to the way they have been devolved. We will continue to work with the UK Government to fix the devolution of Air Departure Tax to ensure that future parliaments can decide on the best policy for Scotland’s interests in line with our climate ambitions.”
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Cllr Uisdean Robertson, said of the situation: “I would urge the Government to consider extending the APD for flights to the islands.
“It has been shown that it is more environmentally friendly for passengers to use air services to the islands. Based on a car with two passengers from Glasgow to Ullapool and then ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway the emissions are above those for a passenger at average load factor on a direct flight from Glasgow to Stornoway.
“This would provide an economic boost for business in the islands, particularly in the tourism sector and would also ease the pressure on already overburdened ferry services.
“We would urge the Government to act to remove APD from flights to the islands – just as those outgoing are already exempt.”
Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles expressed his views, saying: “As this is now purely an environmental debate, we’re calling on the Scottish Government to introduce an APD exemption for flights from mainland airports to the Highlands and Islands, reciprocating the exemption for incoming flights that already exists.”
“As the Government appears keen to use tax policy to further its environmental aims, it should immediately act to remove APD from all flights to Scotland’s islands on this basis.”