Why Heathrow expansion is good business for Northern Ireland
An expanded Heathrow Airport will deliver job-creation, export opportunities, and business and tourism development for Northern Ireland, company bosses have been told.
The London hub has said Belfast-to-Heathrow is its largest domestic export channel for the airport, carrying 270,000kg of freight every year, with almost £1bn of our exports going by air.
Heathrow's strategy director Andrew Macmillan visited Belfast ahead of the conclusion of a consultation from the Airports Commission on proposals for additional capacity at Gatwick and Heathrow airports.
He said: "There are some brilliant products being made in Northern Ireland, being sent all over the world. Expanding Heathrow will mean more products going to more markets."
It is claimed that rival Gatwick carried less than a fourteenth of the freight that Heathrow did in 2013 because it is regarded as a specialist in accommodating low-cost carriers with quick turnarounds.
Currently there are nine flights per day to Heathrow with Aer Lingus and British Airways out of George Best Belfast City Airport.
The expansion plans have been backed by a number of business bodies including the CBI and the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mr Macmillan said that as 80% of all long-haul flights out of the UK fly from Heathrow, which also carries 20% of exports from the UK by value, it makes better economic sense to expand the facility.
"When you look at large exporters like Bombardier or global banking groups like Citi flying people in and out, giving companies access to more flights makes good business sense.
"Every flight into Heathrow from Belfast is carrying lots of Northern Ireland products underneath where passengers are sitting. More flights from Belfast and more onward destinations from Heathrow would mean more business for exporters."
He said the UK risked being overtaken because of expansion by airports such as Amsterdam's Schipol, Paris and Frankfurt. "More people want to fly, airlines want to add more flights - demand for more routes to and from China is absolutely huge - but the UK is being eclipsed by other countries because of constraints.
"Overall, we estimate huge financial and employment benefits for the regions, including Northern Ireland, should the expansion be allowed."
However, Gatwick boss Sir Roy McNulty, who is also chairman of Norbrook Holdings, is adamant a second runway at his airport would offer the best service for Northern Ireland.
Colin Neill, chief executive of trade body Pubs of Ulster, said that expansion of London airports was needed to help grow the hospitality and tourism industry here.
"The key thing for us is connectivity to an international hub," he said."Whilst direct long-haul flights are a utopia, flying to a hub airport is probably a more achievable aim. This is much more than a London question, there will be economic benefits to all of the regions.
"The longer an airport like Heathrow is allowed to slide down the international rankings in terms of capacity, the more remote a place like Northern Ireland becomes.
"We have relied on tourists from Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland for a long time, the growth area has to be international tourists and we have to get them here."