Belfast Telegraph

Airport expansion vital for firms to survive and grow

By Clare Weir

Expansion at Heathrow Airport is essential if Northern Ireland firms are to survive and develop, a top business leader has said.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce, was speaking after a new report claimed that a lack of capacity at Heathrow is costing the UK up to £14bn a year in lost trade.

That figure could rise to £26bn a year by 2030, the report published by Heathrow added.

Heathrow bosses are keen to see a third, extra, runway at the west London airport, which has been ruled out for the time being by the Government.

Prepared by economics consultants Frontier Economics, the report said the UK needed one hub airport to compete with Europe and that having a dual-hub plan, where two airports would serve as hub airports would not work.

The report also ruled out as "unviable" the so-called Heathwick plan, where Heathrow and Gatwick would be joined by a rail link.

Ann McGregor said that encouraging increased trade between UK firms and overseas markets is vital to the rebalancing of the UK economy.

"While firms are being urged to trade with new partners in emerging markets, they are hindered by the lack of connections to these countries, in turn hurting both inward investment and Britain's export potential," she said.

"This is a real issue for Northern Ireland as we have dozens of members that trade with or aspire to do business with the likes of Brazil, India and China.

"To support trade and Northern Ireland's economy, it is vital for our firms to have connections to these emerging markets. As today's report shows, a single hub airport is the only viable option to make this a reality."

The report said Heathrow operates at 99% capacity and there was no room to fit in new trade routes to the emerging economies important for future growth.

It added that the lack of capacity was affecting the UK's competitive position. There were 1,532 more flights to the three largest cities in mainland China from Paris and Frankfurt than there were from Heathrow.

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