It is a pleasure to take part in this debate under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank Chris Grayling for bringing this topic to the floor today.
I would like to focus on a number of areas. Aviation is a wide area; it is not just about airports and passengers—there is also the manufacturing end. It is vital that we look after that and get the planes flying. Otherwise, our manufacturing industry will collapse. Northern Ireland depends heavily on one of our major manufacturers. That company employs many in the aviation industry, but it depends on planes being built and sold. That is vital.
There are many areas to look at. One is connectivity, not just with the wider world but regional connectivity. Northern Ireland is suffering at present with a reduction in the number of flights we can get. There is even difficulty in coming to London, our capital city. We used to have five or six flights a day coming out of the international airport to Gatwick, but that has been rationalised down to four a week. Those numbers make it difficult to grow business.
There is good news in relation to a vaccine and trying to bring back some confidence to the public when it comes to making use of flying. Flights could go ahead safely if we can get people vaccinated to ensure that it is safe to fly. Many within the industry have done everything asked of them to try to encourage people on to planes. Unfortunately, sometimes the Government have not moved with the industry when it has made recommendations about what can be done, and it has had to take measures itself.
One tool vitally important from a Northern Ireland perspective is air passenger duty. A study by York Aviation on the removal of APD at a national level showed how that would be of benefit: it could save 130 routes that might otherwise be lost. The cost to the Exchequer would not be exorbitant—in fact, 3.3 times gross value added would be created by reducing the duty, given the increase in those who would travel. APD costs an additional £13 on every flight from Belfast to Bristol. When flying to Dublin, we would not see that because Dublin has been very active in reducing APD and encouraging people to use flights.
Interestingly, the Republic of Ireland Government made an announcement about injecting €80 million into the aviation sector—in a country with a population of about 4.5 to 5 million people. That is their predatory approach to sucking the life out of the aviation industry in Northern Ireland. We really need to wake up to that and see how we can put measures in place to ensure that, after the pandemic, we have an industry that is still vibrant and one that people will be willing to use.