Peer's plea over key routes to London as Aer Lingus sell-off looms
Northern Ireland peer and businessman Lord Kilclooney has said Stormont must ensure key air routes to London are protected following a sale of Aer Lingus to IAG.
Willie Walsh's airline group IAG, which also owns British Airways, was given the green light by the Irish government - a 25% shareholder in Aer Lingus - to move forward with the sale last week.
But in a letter in today's Belfast Telegraph, newspaper group owner Lord Kilclooney said while IAG has given "assurances about the flights from Dublin, Cork, and Shannon to London", Northern Ireland's routes have not been awarded the same level of certainty.
"The Northern Ireland Executive has not got any assurances to retain flights to both Heathrow and Gatwick," the former Ulster Unionist deputy leader said.
Lord Kilclooney - also known as John Taylor - said: "It is still not too late to pursue this requirement as the sale of Aer Lingus is not yet completed."
While IAG said it would continue to operate its Northern Ireland flights from London Heathrow with Aer Lingus for at least another five years, it didn't specify what would happen after that.
And while IAG boss Willie Walsh has said he will "continue to serve the Northern Ireland" market, no written assurances have been made over the future of its British Airways link from Belfast City Airport to London Heathrow.
Aer Lingus currently has three daily flights to Heathrow, with British Airways flying six times a day. IAG has continually told the Belfast Telegraph that "there are no plans to change Belfast services".
Asked whether the Executive would seek assurances the routes would remain in the same manner as those in the Republic, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said: "The First Minister and I have urged any potential buyer, and everyone involved in the sale of Aer Lingus, to provide assurances that existing air links to and from Belfast will not be impacted as part of any proposed takeover of Aer Lingus. While any potential sale of Aer Lingus to IAG is a commercial matter for the airlines involved and their shareholders, the IAG chief executive has stated that it is the company's intention to continue to serve the Northern Ireland and that the airline sees opportunities to work with George Best Belfast City Airport to further enhance connectivity."
Former pilot Willie Walsh - who once headed the Republic's flag carrier - did not specify last week whether the frequency of both airlines would continue, but said he saw "opportunities to work with" Belfast City Airport.
The airline group plans to buy Aer Lingus in a deal worth €1.4bn (£1bn), after being given the green light from the Irish government, which owns a 25% stake. But there remain concerns over whether both Heathrow links will continue. As a 30% shareholder, Ryanair also has to give its approval to the sale.