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Belfast International Airport passenger numbers cements its place in top 10 across UK

Platform

By Graham Keddie

In the midst of the brouhaha at Stormont, it has been a case of full steam ahead in one of the busiest weeks of the year at Belfast International Airport.

Tomorrow will see us reach the milestone of five million passengers. By the end of the year, we will achieve slightly more than 5.1 million, which will consolidate our position as one of the top ten airports in the UK.

Not surprisingly, we're all justifiably proud of this achievement, but there are even better days ahead. Next year, we expect to surpass that tally. In fact, we will beat our previous all-time best of 5.3 million, which was the high point before the dreadful recession.

New routes, Ryanair's arrival at the airport and expansion by existing airlines, have all contributed to our success. We now have direct access to the lucrative German market - rated number three in the top five priority markets for Tourism Ireland - with Italy and Poland also firmly established on our destination map.

Northern Ireland inbound tourism is benefiting from this direct access. In fact, sixty per cent of passengers on the Ryanair's Berlin service are German.

We now have more than seventy scheduled and chartered services. The growth we've seen has delivered investment and jobs. All of our airside retail units are occupied and what we're doing now, is looking at how we can create sufficient space for three additional outlets. Overall, our businesses have created 900 or so jobs, and more will be added in 2017.

This business boom also means private investment close to the terminal. A new retail/food outlet and fuel forecourt will be built next year by developers, Moorefield Contracts. On its own, this badly-needed outlet will account for 35 jobs.

As in any success, success breeds success. I confidently expect to see further significant private investment in the vicinity of the airport, as increasing passenger throughput drives demand.

Our freight business - often, if unintentionally overlooked - is a key 'player' for the Northern Ireland economy. Every item bought online this Christmas comes through the Cargo Terminal, but it also serves as a major hub for our important export market. Pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, aircraft and engineering components, are but some of the items that are transported to customers around the world.

All of which brings me to what we are saying in our Submission to the draft Programme for Government.

It's not a desire, but a necessity, to invest in our approach roads. Investment in infrastructure is recognised as both prudent and rewarding. Anything that delivers a ratio of £3 for every £1 invested in, in my book, is an easy decision to make.

Getting rid of air passenger duty (APD) is on our 'wish list' as it makes it more difficult to compete with the passenger tax-free airports of the Republic of Ireland.

As we're dealing with an influx of tens of thousands of passengers this week, we're working closely with ministers to secure a replacement for the United service, which discontinues its trans-Atlantic operation in early January.

A new trans-Atlantic operator would be most welcome.

But even if it takes some time to deliver a replacement, 2017 will be a record year for us, and that's good enough reason to raise a glass this Christmas.

Graham Keddie is managing director of Belfast International Airport

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