This air link is vital to Mid­dle Bri­tain

Daily Mail - - News -

HOW far should the Govern­ment go to prop up Flybe, the UK’s largest do­mes­tic air­line?

As an ail­ing car­rier owned by a pri­vate con­sor­tium, many would say it should stand or fall en­tirely on its own mer­its. Even with a state bail-out, who’s to say it won’t col­lapse in the near fu­ture, leav­ing the tax­payer with a huge bill and noth­ing to show for it. In re­cent times both Monarch and Thomas Cook were al­lowed to go to the wall af­ter be­ing re­fused pub­lic in­ter­ven­tion. Why should Flybe be any dif­fer­ent?

But the fact that min­is­ters handed the air­line a par­tial life­line yes­ter­day, was a recog­ni­tion that it is dif­fer­ent.

Flybe serves many ar­eas of the coun­try which are dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive to reach by other trans­port – Corn­wall, North­ern Ire­land, the Isle of Man among them.

If Boris John­son is se­ri­ous about re­gal­vanis­ing Mid­dle Bri­tain, los­ing Flybe would be a ma­jor set­back, both psy­cho­log­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally.

So in re­turn for share­hold­ers (in­clud­ing Sir Richard Bran­son) putting more cash into the air­line, the Govern­ment has agreed to de­fer a £106mil­lion tax bill and re­view air pas­sen­ger duty.

A short-term loan has not been ruled out – though that would be harder to jus­tify.

One op­tion for the re­view is to cut or abol­ish the duty on all do­mes­tic flights. This would have the virtue of be­ing a tax break rather than a di­rect sub­sidy, and would ben­e­fit all in­ter­nal UK flight op­er­a­tors equally.

There are green ar­gu­ments against, of course, and there would be a sig­nif­i­cant cost to the Trea­sury. But for the wider econ­omy of many ‘left-be­hind’ towns, such a move could be a god­send.

In his first speech af­ter win­ning the elec­tion, Mr John­son promised to ‘unite and level up’ flag­ging pro­vin­cial towns.

If he is to achieve that goal, main­tain­ing and im­prov­ing their trans­port links – by rail, road AND air – will be cru­cial.

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