A NORTH-EAST airport boss has demanded the Government cut UK passenger duty to save regional flights.

Durham Tees Valley Airport’s Peter Nears told The Northern Echo urgent changes are needed as the debate over a proposed South-East aviation hub continues.

The Airport Commission will decide on any expansion, with its shortlist including potential new runways at Heathrow and Gatwick.

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However, Mr Nears, the airport’s strategic planning director, said any move must place greater importance on regional services ahead of international operations, and reduce passenger duty.

He was speaking after a Smith Institute report claimed the decline of regional airports will damage local economies and undermine the UK’s competitiveness.

A previous study from York Aviation and Oxford Economics claimed a four-runway base could restore DTVA’s links with London, creating four flights a day by 2050 and generating thousands of jobs.

The loss-making airport saw its daily BMI service to Heathrow end in 2009.

Mr Nears said: “We must have a national strategy if we are to achieve a proper balance in access to national hubs, and local development strategies must see integrated transport policies as a priority.

“Air passenger duty on domestic flights is higher in the UK than any other EU country, which is just one of the issues the Government must address.

“Ministers must also look at ensuring there are robust legal and planning regimes in place if increased capacity in the South-East is to improve access from regional airports through the ring-fencing of slots.

“The Smith report is a useful contribution to the debate.

“It highlights the need to ensure connectivity to the regions is a major factor in the commission’s consideration for increasing capacity.

“It also underlines the loss of connections between regional airports and Heathrow.

“Since 1990, 11 airports have lost Heathrow services altogether, and the few with remaining connections have seen frequency reduced.”

The Smith Institute report, which will be submitted to the Airports Commission, said capacity constraints at Heathrow were damaging domestic connections and pushing airlines towards long-haul routes to lift profits.

Jim French, founder of airline Flybe, said: “The number of UK regional airports serving Heathrow has fallen from 26 to six, while airports such as Amsterdam and Paris have twice that number and more.

“Without a regional connectivity strategy, the big airlines have no need or desire to operate to regional airports where the markets are small, so these regional economies suffer.”

Earlier this year, Durham Tees Valley Airport published a rescue plan to ensure its survival, which includes aims to create 3,800 permanent jobs.

Up to 400 homes are proposed for the site, with the sale of land for housing paying for other developments, including offices and warehousing.

The airport’s future has previously been called into question after passenger numbers fell and scheduled and charter flights were lost.