As I See It
Blaming air tax looks like a flight of fancy
Led by the belligerent Michael O’Leary it has fought many battles; with British Airways and its equally pugnacious boss Willie Walsh, and with Brussels over regulation and competition issues.
It got a bloody nose last year over the catastrophic pilot scheduling that led to a long list of cancellations and angry passengers, some of whom vowed never to use the airline again, but were probably enticed back by the usual temptation of cheap flights.
As from the end of this year, many of those passengers will be left without the option of giving Ryanair another try after the airline announced it was shutting its Glasgow base and withdrawing planes from 20 of the 23 routes it currently serves.
The company has blamed Brexit and air passenger duty, known in Scotland as air departure tax (ADT), though both are puzzling reasons, given that they impact on other airports in just the same way. Edinburgh has campaigned for the tax to be reduced even though it will gain 11 of Ryanair’s Glasgow flights.
Glasgow Airport offered some sympathy for Ryanair’s tax case and in a robust statement urged Scottish ministers to fulfil its promise to cut it.
There was a whimper of dissent from opposition MSPs, notably the LibDems who said the crisis exposed another flaw in the Scottish Government’s handling of major policy issues.
The criticism, however, was itself weakened by the fact that there is not much the Scottish Government can do about ADT until it gets clearance from Brussels.
Not a word from Labour, of course, which opposes cutting ADT because the party say it helps the “richest few”, a ludicrous claim when most of the beneficiaries are ordinary families on average incomes.
Because of Labour’s opposition to reducing the tax it has talked itself into a corner at a time when it ought to be more concerned about the potential loss of 300 jobs.
However, ADT and Brexit look like a couple of giant red herrings. The real reason for all this appears to lie in the simple differences in traffic flow experienced by Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Ryanair admitted that it was switching planes to Edinburgh because it has a “stronger inbound component”, a clumsy euphemism for saying it was attracting the volume and type of passengers who are not arriving at Inchinnan.
Tourists and business class passengers are pouring through the Turnhouse terminals in increasing numbers as the city builds its international reputation and makes strides to becoming Scotland’s biggest city. Many of those arrivals are also prepared to pay more, ADT or not.
Glasgow, on the other hand, still relies heavily on the locals flying in and out on holiday, and for whom the air tax may make a noticeable difference to affordability.
Ironically, Prestwick – which has long-been expected to lose flights to Glasgow – will have more Ryanair services than its bigger neighbour whose new boss will face an immediate problem of how to replace a substantial loss of business.