Govt seeks to lessen impact of rise in UK-NZ flight tax

A backlash against big spikes in departure tax for people travelling on long-haul flights from Britain has gone global, and the Government here hopes a review of the situation might lessen the impact.

The British Government has moved to ramp up British air passenger duty charges on a graduated scale, which means those travelling to New Zealand face increases of 55 per cent or £170 (NZ$356) per person.

Airlines have called the rises disgraceful, with Virgin Atlantic and British Airways saying it will mean overseas holidays are no longer affordable for many, and it could prompt people to travel to Europe and depart from there.

The recession has already led to a drop in people travelling to New Zealand from Britain, and Tourism New Zealand says the latest increases could further stall a recovery.

Departure tax increases have been in the pipeline since when Gordon Brown was prime minister, and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the Government here had been trying to influence a review of the charges expected to be undertaken the British Government.

"We've had a very favourable response," he told Radio New Zealand.

"It's fair to say that (Foreign Secretary) William Hague in particular has made it clear that he understands the points that we have made - that this is a very punitive tax as far as more distant nations like New Zealand are concerned."

Mr McCully said he had had reassurances from Mr Hague and his ministerial colleagues that they have been working to secure an understanding of New Zealand's position.

"They have made it very clear that they would be very happy to see changes made that are favourable from our perspective."

Mr McCully said it was becoming clear that the change was sparking a backlash in Britain, and media there were explaining to the public how the tax could be avoided, for example, by travelling by underground fast train to France and beginning long-haul journeys from there.

"I think they will find the impact of this is going to be pretty savage on some of the airports and the British airlines, and they will want to see it addressed fairly quickly."

He said there were strategies to get people to New Zealand for next year's rugby World Cup "and it won't be particularly helpful to have new taxes cutting across that strategy".

- NZPA

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