Small airports across the UK are blaming Air Passenger Duty for the huge slump in passenger numbers.
Traffic in some regional airports has fallen by as much as 70 percent over the past four years, according to new figures from the Civil Aviation Authority.
During this period APD has risen by 140 per cent on short-haul flights, from £5 to £12, and by up to 300 percent on long-haul journeys.
The figures support claims made by airport operators APD is having a “damaging and disproportionate impact” on the country’s regional hubs.
They have warned the government that further APD hikes would lead to airport closures and the loss of regional routes.
Bournemouth has been one of the worst affected. During the first quarter of 2011, it received about 60,000 passengers, compared with more than 200,000 during the same period in 2007.
Over the same period, Doncaster/Sheffield airport suffered a 58 percent slide in passenger numbers, followed by Prestwick at 57 percent lower and 38 percent at Exeter.
Meanwhile larger regional hubs have also been suffering: 28 percent at Newcastle and 23 percent at Glasgow.
Belfast is down 27 percent over the same period and critics argue that some travellers are flying from Dublin instead to get round APD.
Last week the Government concluded its consultation on the future of APD. One option being considered is a further increase in the rate of tax on short-haul flights to facilitate a cut in the rate on long-haul ones. A decision is expected in the autumn, with changes to come into effect next year.
Craig Richmond, chief executive of Peel Airports (owner of Liverpool John Lennon, Doncaster Sheffield and Durham Tees Valley airports) told The Telegraph: “If the Government is committed to constraining the growth of the congested London airports, and prefers to see regional airports take up this capacity, then our proposal needs to be considered seriously.”