By Graham Keddie
Managing Director, Belfast International Airport
We’ve just had a hectic Christmas period, capping a wonderful year when we achieved a new passenger record of 5.8 million. In a business where nothing stands still for long, we are confident of smashing that old record and achieving more than 6 million passengers in the year ahead.
2018 will be our busiest ever. Our airlines will be serving new destinations with hundreds of thousands of additional seats available. Our capital expenditure programme will continue apace as we update and add new facilities.
More and more passengers from across the border, aided by a favourable pound-euro exchange rate, are using Belfast International. And more and more holiday-makers from the Mainland are opting to come here where there is no exchange rate disadvantage.
The growth we are enjoying has often been measured in monthly double-digit figures. Of course, the more we grow, the more investment we attract and the more jobs we create on the site.
We’ve generated 1,200-plus jobs in just two years in every facet of the airport operation, from apron to catering; security; core airport activities, baggage handling and retail. The council area that has benefited most is Antrim and Newtownabbey. Antrim, Ballyclare, Newtownabbey have all seen an uplift, followed by Larne, Lisburn, Ballymena and all parts of Belfast.
On occasion, we struggle to fill new posts or find replacement workers. That means we have to widen the net, which is what we will have to do in 2018 to keep abreast with demand.
This economic activity we generate underpins the Northern Ireland economy, and that position will strengthen as we continue to expand. This year, as many as 250 new jobs could be created at the airport, which means a further £4 million in wages.
In December, we secured a rates rebate of £1.8 million as a result of a successful legal claim for over-valuation against Land and Property Services. We plan to spend double that sum on increased capital expenditure programmes, bringing the total that’s committed for the year to £8.8 million, which is to the obvious benefit of local contractors and their suppliers.
Against this backdrop is the ‘drag’ of Air Passenger Duty (APD). We will up our game on this front in 2018 to get the Government to see sense and rid Northern Ireland of this appalling tax on short-haul flights.
Right now, we are competing with the Republic of Ireland where the taxis set at zero. We are seeking a level playing pitch. It’s true we’re doing well because of the favourable exchange rate, but it could be so much better if we didn’t have to deal with the disadvantage of an unfair tax.
Our politicians are fully engaged alongside us and we intend to make an irrefutable case for the removal of APD during the Government Consultation which gets underway shortly. In fact, so fundamental is this issue to our business, and the jobs of thousands, that I would request robust Submissions to this important consultation from our local Council as well as neighbouring Councils.
This is a fight we can and must win. The Government must be made to realise that we all sing from the same hymn sheet here in our outright opposition to this barrier to growth and jobs.
In the meantime, may I take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a happy and prosperous New Year.