Updated: Industry reacts as PM pledges no new taxes on flying

Abta pledged to ensure the interests of members are “taken into account” by the prime minister after Rishi Sunak ruled out any new taxes on flying as he confirmed a major shift on the government’s approach to achieving net zero by 2050.

Speaking at Number 10 on his new approach to net zero yesterday (Wednesday), Sunak ruled out new taxes on flights as part of a push back on a range of green measures.

Denying that he was abandoning targets or commitments to net zero, the PM nonetheless delayed the ban on new petrol car sales from 2030 to 2035, pushed back a ban on on new oil boilers from 2026 to 2035 and increased heat pump grants to £7,500.

Listing government proposals he was scrapping, Sunak said these included creating new taxes “to discourage flying or going on holiday”.

One mooted example was a frequent flyer tax, rising along with the number of flights taken in a year.

When he was transport secretary two years ago, current defence secretary Grant Shapps had suggested officials were looking at “carbon pricing” costs passed onto consumers from airlines.

Shapps reportedly considered cutting the number of free allowances on flights in the UK and to the EU by carriers, or expanding the scheme to cover other non-carbon greenhouse gases.

Responding to the speech, Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “The tourism industry is already working hard to reduce carbon emissions, not least through Sustainable Aviation’s plan to reach net zero by 2050. 

“The aviation sector is committed to making greater use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), and needs continued government support for investment to help bring down emissions.” 

He added: “The prime minister’s announcement today shows that the debate around how to achieve net zero is a significant and live one, and Abta is in close contact with all political stakeholders to make sure the interests of its members and their customers are taken into account.”

Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of The Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “The prime minister’s announcement ruling out further taxes on flying must be seen as positive news for the UK outbound travel sector, and for Brits who, we have seen this year, are extremely reluctant to give up their hard-earned holidays.

“Increased prices through any additional tax hikes would only serve to reduce consumer demand, which would in turn have a negative effect on the UK economy and become a further drain on consumers, when household budgets are already being stretched with rising inflation and the continued rise in the cost-of-living.

“The UK outbound travel industry remains a key contributor to the national economy, and research has shown on average consumers spend an additional £200 per person in the UK before travelling overseas and international travel annually contributes a further £80 billion to the UK economy.

Sustainability is, and remains, a top priority for the travel industry and we are continually seeing innovations across our ecosystem as we strive to reach net zero by 2050.”

Business Travel Association chief executive Clive Wratten said: “It is a positive that the prime minister has recognised that taxing flying does not necessarily help our pathway to net zero. 

“Business travel in particular is a vital part of the UK’s economic growth in these uncertain times.

“Our industry and supply chain remain committed to reaching net zero by 2050 and will continue to work with the government to take all the necessary steps to do so.”

Meanwhile, a poll by travel insurance firm InsureandGo revealed strong public support (82%) for government action to support sustainable travel.

The survey of more than 2,000 consumers conducted in August found that 80% of travellers reported experiencing climate change effects abroad this summer, up from 72% last year. 

A quarter of respondents favour stricter sustainability targets for airlines. Similar proportions (25%) understand the logic of new taxes on air travel and limitations on the number of flights per year. 

Company chief executive Chris Rolland said: “Most travellers are acutely aware of the importance of combating climate change and are proactively seeking appropriate ways to minimise their environmental impact while travelling. 

“The significant increase from last summer to this year in the number of travellers whose eyes have been opened to this issue underlines the importance of sustainable travel to the British population.”

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