Shock at economic impact of cheap flying

AIR campaigners were astonished today after new government figures revealed the staggering growth in cheap leisure flights and their impact on the country's economy.

By Richard Cornwell

AIR campaigners were astonished today after new government figures revealed the staggering growth in cheap leisure flights and their impact on the country's economy.

There has been a huge upsurge in recent years in the number of cut-price flights - a large proportion of which fly over Suffolk, the gateway to and from eastern Europe for the major airports.

Last year the flights resulted in a record hole in the UK trade balance, according to figures published today by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Travel Trends 2006 shows UK residents took 56.5 million overseas flights in 2006 - more than double the 24.6m incoming foreign visitors.

The net impact on the UK trade balance was a deficit of almost £19 billion.

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Ten years ago the UK trade deficit on international air travel was just £2.3bn but has grown dramatically since as the number of overseas trips by UK residents has more than doubled while the number of foreign tourists visiting the UK has increased at a much slower rate.

Campaigners though say many of the trips to obscure destinations are for stag parties and there is simply no need for the flights.

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) said less than one in seven overseas trips by UK residents was for business purposes and the figures from the ONS call into question the government's claims that its controversial airport expansion plans are essential for the UK economy.

Brian Ross, economics adviser to SSE, said: “These latest figures from the ONS showing a record trade deficit on air travel demonstrate that it's time for the government to abandon the myth that endless growth in air travel is necessarily beneficial for the UK economy.

“The government would also do well to recognise that its airport expansion plans - whether for Heathrow, Stansted or elsewhere - are simply not reconcilable with its claims to be committed to tackling climate change.”

He said the government relies upon the claimed economic benefits of airport expansion to justify the clear contradiction between its support for massive airport expansion in the UK while claiming that it is in the forefront, internationally, in tackling climate change.

The government says air traffic will double in the next 20 years and has announced plans for a third runway at Heathrow to help cope with the expected growth.

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