Northern Ireland Airports Call for Return of Duty-Free Shopping on EU Flights

Since the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) in January 2021, duty-free shopping for flights between Great Britain and the EU has been reintroduced.

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However, Northern Ireland’s airports have been left out of this arrangement due to the complexities of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

In response to this discrepancy, George Best Belfast City Airport, Belfast International Airport, and City of Derry Airport have joined forces to call for the reinstatement of duty-free shopping on flights between Northern Ireland and the EU.

This joint plea to the UK Government and EU seeks to restore fairness and economic benefits to the region’s airports.

The Anomaly and the Windsor Framework

The issue of duty-free shopping for Northern Ireland’s airports arose during discussions surrounding the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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As part of the Windsor Framework agreed upon by the UK and EU to address protocol-related challenges, there have been mounting demands to reintroduce duty-free facilities to airports in Northern Ireland.

This would align them with other airports in the UK and provide real economic advantages in terms of airport revenue.

Significant Economic Impact

Executives from Belfast and Derry airports emphasized the substantial economic impact of duty-free sales, contributing over £900 million to the UK’s GDP.

Additionally, non-aeronautical revenue, which includes duty-free shopping, can account for up to 40% of an airport’s total revenue.

The absence of duty-free goods being sold to passengers traveling to the EU has already resulted in an estimated annual loss of £5 million.

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Restoring duty-free shops for EU flights would not only mitigate these losses but also level the playing field for Northern Irish airports compared to their UK and European counterparts.

Unfair Competitive Disadvantage

Nigel Keal, chairman of the UK Travel Retail Forum and coordinator of the call to the UK Government and EU Commission, condemned the current situation as unfair.

Post-Brexit, duty-free shopping has become highly popular with consumers, leading to increased sales for overseas retailers catering to departing UK passengers.

These sales have been vital in supporting the aviation and travel retail sectors during the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Excluding airports and businesses in Northern Ireland from accessing this revenue stream creates an inequitable competitive disadvantage compared to the rest of the UK and Europe.

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As a result, the travel retail industry is urging the Westminster Government and the EU Commission to collaborate and harmonize the rules on duty-free shopping for Northern Irish airports with those of their British and European counterparts.

Conclusion

The exclusion of Northern Ireland’s airports from duty-free shopping for flights to the EU has raised concerns about fairness and economic implications.

The joint plea made by George Best Belfast City Airport, Belfast International Airport, and City of Derry Airport calls for the restoration of duty-free facilities to ensure parity with other UK airports and deliver economic benefits to the region.

The industry’s appeal to the UK Government and EU Commission seeks to rectify the competitive disadvantage faced by Northern Irish airports and businesses, emphasizing the significance of duty-free sales in supporting the industry’s recovery post-Brexit and amid the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As stakeholders await responses from relevant authorities, the issue remains pivotal in ensuring a level playing field for Northern Ireland’s aviation sector.

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