A SENIOR airline boss has said the Government’s flight tax plans are signs of “stupidity” which will put regional growth at risk.
Maurice Flanagan, executive vice chairman at Emirates, said he was confident the airline’s Newcastle link would continue to grow successfully, but called on the Government to look at again at the impact of tax plans on carriers operating outside of London.
Despite the unpopular tax plans Emirates is planning to invest further in its existing Newcastle to Dubai route, with bigger planes on the horizon.
Mr Flanagan, whose airline last week renamed Durham’s Riverside cricket home the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground, said he believed the North East would emerge as a major part of the firm’s growth plans.
The airline has seen passenger figures grow by 20% in the first three months of 2010. Almost 21,000 passengers travelled on the carrier’s daily service to Dubai and on to other destinations.
Cargo carryings on the route also climbed sharply to over 720,000 kilos, with regular commodities including car and oil drilling parts, and ships’ spares.
“For us as a company, this has been hugely successful and we are already looking to see where we can go next with this,” Mr Flanagan said.
Emirates will bring a larger aircraft to Newcastle Airport on July 26 as part of the airport’s 75th anniversary celebrations.
The 242 ft long Boeing 777-300ER is 50% bigger than the Airbus A330-200 which Emirates currently operates to and from Newcastle. Mr Flanagan said he hopes this will prove the airport can handle larger aircraft and admits staff are considering a full switch.
One of the few clouds on the horizon, Mr Flanagan said, was a Government tax shake-up which will see airlines taxed on a per plane basis, with longer flights taxed more.
Regional airports fear this will lead to passengers opting for European airports to avoid the fees.
“It is just stupidity,” Mr Flanagan said. “For us it is maybe not so big an issue, we are maybe a step removed and we’re committed to the route, but for many services outside of London you have to wonder what they are doing.
“We must find a better way because with all the problems in the industry now, the strikes facing BA or the ash problems, we do not need this as well.”
The Journal has been calling on the Government for a rethink in regional air route charges as part of its Tax Too Far campaign.
Mr Flanagan added that Emirates’ decision to sponsor Durham County Cricket Club and acquire naming rights was a sign of its long-term commitment to the region.
“I think both of us will get something out of this, yes.
“I can see how it will be great for them but it’s something we are proud to be involved with as well.”