The environmental lobby has responded furiously to reports that the government may cut Air Passenger Duty (APD) on domestic flights to rescue the ailing regional airline, Flybe.

Anna Hughes, director of Flight Free UK, said: “It seems very short-sighted that the government is considering making it even easier for people to choose to fly at a time when we need to be drastically reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

“Flying is already artificially cheap owing to a lack of tax on kerosene. To cut APD as well would be a disaster for the environment.

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“At a time of climate crisis we need better travel alternatives, including more efficient and cheaper rail links between the cities that Flybe serves, not measures that would increase the number of domestic flights.

“The irony is that this news is being reported next to stories about the Australian bushfires, which British scientists have warned will become the new ‘normal’ and indeed become worse unless we achieve net zero emissions.

“Making flying even cheaper, and therefore increasing the amount we do it, is not compatible with net zero.”

APD is the tax that applies to adult (16+) passengers boarding a flight from a UK airport. The rate of Air Passenger Duty depends on the class of travel and the destination of the flight.

For domestic flights in economy, the tax adds £26 to a return journey. It is not ring-fenced for any particular purpose, such as environmental projects, but goes straight into general taxation.

Flybe has been involved in “last-ditch” talks with ministers about its future, with reports that it would be closed down if the government did not offer help to keep it flying.

The regional airline was close to collapse last winter, but was taken over by a consortium led by Virgin Atlantic. It is due to be rebranded as Virgin Connect. 

Lord Adonis, the last Labour transport secretary: “I certainly don’t think that we should be giving a free lunch to air passengers by removing Air Passenger Duty, which would be bad for the environment, bad for our green credentials and also would impose a big, big charge on the general taxpayer.”

The pressure group Regional & City Airports has long insisted APD “undermines the viability, sustainability and potential of regional airports”.

It has lobbied the Treasury to exempt airports handling under three million passengers a year from the flight tax.

Beneficiaries would include George Best Belfast City, Southampton, Cardiff and Exeter – all significant airports for Flybe.

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