Belfast International Airport

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Chamber of Commerce

Safeguarding Seats to Heathrow Top Priority

Published: 14 February 2012

Remarks by John Doran, Managing Director, Belfast International Airport, at the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce “Value of Connectivity” event, Tuesday, 14th February 2012

Northern Ireland’s geographic location makes us unique in both a UK and EU context. We are the most westerly part of the Union, and the only region of the UK separated by water, yet sharing a land frontier with another member state.

Consider also that the Republic of Ireland is in the eurozone, and you get some idea of where we are economically, and how important it is to have strong, efficient and sustainable connections with key business markets.

We have to trade; we have to travel; and, given our peripherality and island location, robust air links are a fundamental underpinning of our current economy, and the essential springboard from which future economic growth will be launched.

Our most successful firms thrive in Global export markets......be that beef, eels or indeed chocolate sprinkles into the Dutch market - to aircraft parts, diagnostic equipment, generators, buses or wind farms, all manufactured within half an hour of where we are this morning.

Air connectivity is the key to efficient trading.

We are fortunate to enjoy extensive links between Belfast and London – indeed the advent of flights to Southend will shortly open up a fifth London area gateway for access to and from Northern Ireland into the capital. Equally we are liberally connected with all of the regional business centres and communities throughout Great Britain.

In European terms, while our direct accessibility has improved over recent years, work remains to be done to secure direct linkages from key source markets for tourism and investment. But even in short haul European terms, on-line access to airline booking engines and the ever-greater sophistication in consumer behaviour has made connecting to and from anywhere in Europe a relatively straightforward process via a number of alternative points such as Gatwick, Luton, Manchester, Paris or Amsterdam.

However, in the global arena, for Northern Ireland, flexible connectivity over Heathrow remains vital – there is no other currently available efficient channel to access Vancouver, Atlanta, Moscow, Beijing or Sydney, to name but a few key long haul destinations.

So, for the Northern Ireland economy to prosper, we need to be efficiently linked with our key trading partners and visitor source markets. For worldwide markets, that largely means access via Heathrow for the present and foreseeable future.

Of course we recognise the need for Government to develop policies for aviation that deliver balance between economic development and long term social and environmental sustainability. Heathrow is a prime example of such a compromise.

We also recognise that, in striking the sustainability balance, Heathrow slots are a finite resource upon which there are many competing demands. That said, our over-riding goal ought to be the safeguarding of enough daily seats to meet market demand, even if the absolute number of daily services becomes more limited than at present.

2012 is a pivotal year of opportunity for the Northern Ireland economy. Our tourism product is being marketed internationally as never before. We have to be able to facilitate efficient access for visitors to our market.

Yes, they will travel by air to Ireland, but flying into Dublin will not deliver the fillip which the Northern Ireland economy seeks or needs. Visitors need to feel the soil of Northern Ireland between their toes, as it were, when they touch down here, to experience the full authenticity of what this region has to offer.

Expanding direct access will be a key part of this project, but maintaining core global links via London Heathrow into Belfast, if anything, remains an even more critical aspect in our economic development endeavours.

Pictured left to right are Ross Baker, BAA Strategy Director, Andrew Brammer, Support Services, Allen & Overy, Ann Mc Gregor, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Irwin Stelzer, Hudson Institute, Washington D.C., John Doran, Managing Director, BIA and Neil Gibson, Director of Regional Services, Oxford Economics.

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