Belfast Telegraph

We want to help the economy to take off

British Midland's chief executive Wolfgang Prock-Schauer sees a growing improvement in the outlook for businesses in the province

By Margaret Canning

The sponsorship of the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards by British Midland International (bmi) is the airline's contribution to the Northern Ireland economy, the airline's chief executive said.

Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, who visited Belfast last week, said he wanted to see a healthy economy in the province.

"We are closely associated to Northern Ireland and we have a big interest in the economy growing and developing."

And he said he had detected an improvement in the outlook of businesses here.

With a predominance of business customers using bmi, particularly on its Heathrow route, Mr Schauer said: "We serve the Northern Ireland economy and we serve ourselves. We depend on a functioning and thriving business environment, which is why we support the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards.

"Supporting these kinds of business awards is our contribution to a more healthy economy, which in turn helps us."

Bmi and its low-cost sister bmibaby fly one million passengers every year to and from London Heathrow, Stansted, East Midlands, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and George Best Belfast City Airport. Mr Schauer was, in his own words, appointed to "turn around" the airline, which suffered a £198m loss in 2009.

One of his most dynamic acts was to move sister airline bmibbaby's operations from Belfast International to join bmi at the City Airport last year.

"I think of bmi very much as a group and I want to be strong as a group wherever I am flying, so while it was a good service which we had here, it did not give us the synergy which we should have. I also think the City Airport was a very consumer friendly operation. With us being there comes a lot of synergy. The feedback and the pick-up of loads give us a clear positioning as the premier airline in Belfast."

Despite a controversy surrounding domestic passenger charges at Heathrow, which are set to go up from £13 to £20 next month, the Belfast-Heathrow route remains one of the jewels in the bmi crown.

"Our six frequencies are not in question at all. We will not be changing our offering into Belfast," he said.

During his visit to Belfast, he met Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster and business leaders to garner their support in his campaign against the charges. "We have the full support of everybody here."

Now bmi has made a complaint to the Civil Aviation Authority about the hike in levies. "It could be that we have to reduce our fares in order to stay competitive. It could mean higher fares. We have to wait and see. It depends on the competitive dynamic," he said.

As for the future, he insisted Lufthansa's ownership of bmi was a "long-term" integration and that he would remain in the hot seat.