Leading European airlines yesterday urged the government to abolish Air Passenger Duty to boost British tourism and economy.

Ditching the air tax would boost UK GDP by 1.7% and create 61,000 new jobs by 2020, airline lobby group Airlines for Europe (A4E) estimated.

Passengers have paid more than £31 billion in 21 years, with the cost of the highest aviation tax in the world rising by 824% since being introduced in 1994.

A further rise to £150 will take effect in April 2017, unfairly penalising British companies hoping to do business abroad and placing an added burden to doing business in the UK, A4E argued.

A4E member airline CEOs Carolyn McCall of easyJet, Willie Walsh of British Airways owner International Airlines Group and Bjørn Kjos of Norwegian renewed their call for APD to be scrapped.

A4E managing director, Thomas Reynaert, said: “The UK has the highest aviation tax worldwide. This puts it at a competitive disadvantage as other European hubs take traffic and business away from the UK precisely because of APD.

“Following the vote to leave the European Union every effort should be made to ensure the UK economy improves its competitiveness and secures its position as worldwide trading nation.

“It’s time for the UK government to get rid of this tax which punishes business and consumers.”

He added: “The UK spends hundreds of millions of pounds attracting foreign tourists and business people to the country and then charges them up to £146 in tax to return home.

“We, the airlines serving the British market, can wholeheartedly sign up to the prime minister’s latest statements during the release of the Tourism Action Plan.

“To make Britain more attractive, accessible and welcoming to visitors it is best to eliminate this tax.”

British Air Transport Association (BATA) chief executive Tim Alderslade told Travel Weekly: “Airlines have consistently expressed the view that clarity is needed from the Treasury as to what it intends to do in the event of Scotland halving APD.

“Rather than tinkering around the edges, the new Cabinet should grasp the opportunity to push through a substantial cut to this tax in all parts of the country.”