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'Executive must grasp airport's importance'

By David Elliott

Belfast International Airport has criticised the Executive's draft Programme for Government (PfG) for failing to understand the importance the aviation sector can play in getting the economy back on its feet.

Belfast International Airport said the PfG's failure to include proposals to turn the two main arteries to it's Aldergrove base into dual carriageways or to investigate a rail link to the airport is "a source of great disappointment".

"The documents are deficient in a number of areas," it said in a submission on the PfG.

"They fail to grasp the significance of the aviation sector, the capacity that it has to unlock impressive economic potential and the contribution Belfast International Airport, in particular, could make towards the development of a even more vibrant tourism sector".

The two roads the airport refers to are the A57 from the M2 to the airport, and the A26 from the Moira roundabout on the M1.

"While such schemes are smaller in scale than projects such as the A5, they are nonetheless significant in perception terms for visitors and investors alike, in presenting a forward-thinking community where priority is given to drawing in international visitors and business partners and ensuring that they can seamlessly access tourism sites and investment locations once they arrive into the major local gateways," it said.

"We view their absence as a missed opportunity and a major gap in the Draft PfG and the accompanying Draft Economic Strategy".

The airport said the PfG was doing Northern Ireland a disservice by ignoring the assets which exist, but which may need to be properly exploited, and "by a myopia" which fails to take full account of new and emerging markets.

It wants a feasibility study to be undertaken looking at the implementation of a light, rapid transit system to and from the airport.

"Essentially, we appealed to ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive to use the assets already in place and not sell us short," Belfast International Airport managing director John Doran said.

"This airport can play a much greater role in driving recovery and re-balancing the economy but it cannot work in isolation. It has to have strong government support and a commitment to invest in areas such as roads that will deliver very handsome returns for NI Plc".

In response, George Best Belfast City Airport said: "(We) support the commitment of the Executive to upgrade strategic roads and improve access to ports and gateways.

"We will support efforts to improve the connectivity between rail and air services and would welcome the opportunity to engage with Translink and DRD on access from GBBCA to the rail halt at Sydenham."

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