Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Session 2004-2005

8 April 2005

Air Transport Services in Northern Ireland


The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today published a report into air transport services in Northern Ireland.

The Rt Hon Michael Mates MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

“Northern Ireland relies on good air links to maintain and develop a healthy economy. When we started this Inquiry just over a year ago air services to and from Northern Ireland had been through a period of decline resulting mainly from global changes and pressures on the airline industry.

“A Route Development Fund, set up at the end of 2003 to promote new air routes of economic benefit to Northern Ireland, was therefore a valuable Government initiative at a time when services were particularly poor. Although it has resulted in some important new services, there was an absence of advance planning to identify the routes that would bring the maximum business and inward tourism benefits. This failure to identify priorities has resulted in funding being awarded on an ad-hoc basis and the full potential benefits may not have been realised for Northern Ireland.

“The experience in Scotland of a similar Fund, which was introduced a year earlier, with a relatively high failure rate, should have underlined the need for a rigorous and focused approach. The prospect of other UK regions creating similar funds could distort the market and reduce the overall effectiveness of this type of support in the future.”

Mr Tony Clarke MP, Chairman of the sub-committee which undertook the inquiry, said:

“Northern Ireland is enjoying a significant improvement in air services at present with up to 25 new routes announced over the past 18 months. These routes are mainly to other parts of the UK and to mainland Europe, with one important transatlantic service due to commence shortly. To enable air services to continue to grow and develop a number of issues need to be addressed urgently.

• Belfast International Airport has unrestricted scope to expand while any further growth at Belfast City Airport would require an easement of the current Planning Agreement. A decision on this is needed quickly to allow both airports to plan for the future.

• The City of Derry Airport provides an economic lifeline for the North West but its future is dependent on major infrastructural development and  tackling its operating deficit effectively.

• The Government needs to put adequate contingency plans in place to protect the access to Heathrow Airport, with its vital onward global connections.”

Mr Clarke also said:

“Dublin Airport, with its wide range of direct services and improving road access, is the main competitor for the Belfast airports and is believed to attract up to one million passengers a year from Northern Ireland. Recapturing just some of this market could provide valuable economic benefits for Northern Ireland. An urgent study is needed to quantify the extent of the issue and identify effective ways of reducing the flow.”