The aviation industry last night rounded on Conservative Party plans to impose a green tax on frequent flyers, insisting that the idea would hit the poor, damage the economy and make UK airlines less competitive.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said he was proposing a levy because "the case for acting now to reduce the future growth in greenhouse gas emissions from aviation is compelling".
Promising widespread consultation with airlines, Mr Osborne said people who flew more frequently would pay at a higher rate under his proposals. Travellers could be allowed one short haul flight a year, but any further flights would be taxed, he said.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jerry Blackett described the initiative as "unhelpful".
Mr Blackett said the charge would make UK business less competitive because rival firms in Europe and America would not have to pay a similar tax. He did not believe the levy would stop business people flying, but it would undoubtedly hit profits.
"It seems a very strange thing for the Conservative Party to propose," Mr Blackett added.
The budget airline Flybe, a major operator at Birmingham International Airport, said it had already demanded a meeting with party leader David Cameron to discuss the plans, which it claims favour the rich.
A Flybe spokesman warned: "George Osborne’s proposals are an attack on ordinary travellers, bad for the economy and a Luddite attempt to turn the clock back to a time when air travel was the preserve of the rich. Mr Osborne betrays his lack of knowledge about the UK regional economy by proposing London-centric taxes that will put at risk the economic regeneration of the UK regions." The electoral risk of the new tax was underlined by an ICM opinion poll yesterday, with 58 per cent of respondents rejecting plans for any additional levy on air travel.
Virgin Atlantic claimed green taxes on flights had already been proven not to work and that bringing in a per flight tax could harm the UK’s economy.
Paul Charles, communications director for the airline, said: "Taxing passengers has failed as a means of reducing the growth in emissions. We would urge the Conservatives to consider encouraging the aviation industry to invest in the technology which will deliver lighter and cleaner planes and fossil-free fuels."
A British Airways spokesman said: "We believe taxation is an extremely blunt instrument in terms of reducing carbon emissions."
ABTA, the travel agents' association, warned the Tory plans would hit the growing number of families taking more than one holiday abroad a year.
A spokeswoman said: "It will definitely have an effect on families and there will also be a knock-on effect in terms of the UK’s competitiveness and on jobs.
"Obviously we want to make sure that aviation is paying its share, but any measures must be proportionate. It is unbelievable that flying has been singled out for tax when more emissions are produced by households and industry and car travel."