LEVEL, part of the IAG group, is a low-cost airline already flying from Barcelona to the United States and to Latin America. Later this year it plans to fly from Paris to North America and the Caribbean. Now it is considering long-haul flights from Cardiff .
British Airways and Vueling, both part of IAG, already fly from Rhoose Cardiff Airport, and Cardiff is viable for long-haul flights. On May 1st, Qatar Airways will commence flights from Cardiff to Doha.
Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG, is not averse to some hard-nosed negotiations. In an open letter he has tied LEVEL’s use of Cardiff Airport to the scrapping of air passenger duty (APD). And he has the support of the Welsh Government who is lobbying Westminster to abolish APD on long-haul flights from Cardiff Airport which is wholly owned by the Welsh Government.
Pressing his case, Mr Walsh said LEVEL can offer cheaper transatlantic flights from Spain and France, about £88 one-way, whereas APD would add £78 on top which is clearly not competitive. He said abolishing APD would open opportunities for other regional airports such as Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester. And not just for LEVEL; other long-haul low costs airlines would also benefit to the advantage of British consumers.
In his open letter, Mr Walsh said: "MPs need to know that APD undermines our ability to introduce new low cost flights that would benefit their constituents. If APD was axed, IAG could open new routes and operate LEVEL from regional airports. Britain is losing out to countries that don't have draconian aviation taxes”. He said it would be particularly foolish in a post-Brexit environment.
Last year, the Welsh Government commissioned an independent report which stated that a further 62,000 passengers would use Cardiff Airport annually if long-haul APD was abolished.
The management of Cardiff Airport has spoken up in support of Willie Walsh’s proposal. CEO Debra Barber said: "We welcome the comments made by Willie Walsh in relation to air passenger duty. We recognize the huge benefits associated with the devolving of APD to Wales and its subsequent abolishment”.
In reply for the British Government, Ken Skates, Secretary for Economy and Transport, said: “The Welsh Government has long pressed the UK Government to devolve control of air passenger duty and unleash the economic potential of Cardiff Airport. These comments, from one of the world’s largest operators, demonstrate the appetite for long haul routes from Cardiff as a part of a sustainable, long term strategy”.
HM Treasury receives about £10 million annually in APD.