Belfast Telegraph

Air travel links 'need improvement'

Northern Ireland is in danger of being cut off from trade and job opportunities if flight connections to mainland Britain are not improved, according to business leaders.

Regular flights to Heathrow are vital to avoid missing out on investment and exports, Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ann McGregor said.

The London airport supports 1,000 tourism and 900 airport jobs in Northern Ireland.

A report by analysts Oxford Economics has been sent to around 50 leading local businesses.

Ms McGregor said: "Encouraging increased trade between UK firms and overseas markets is vital to the rebalancing of the UK economy. While firms are being urged to trade with new partners in emerging markets, they are hindered by the lack of connections to these countries, in turn hurting both inward investment and Britain's export potential."

Ross Baker, Heathrow operator BAA's strategy director, said: "The centre of gravity in the world economy is shifting and Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole should be forging new links with emerging markets.

"Instead, we are edging towards a future cut off from some of the world's most important markets, with Paris and Frankfurt already boasting more flights to the three largest cities in China than Heathrow, our only hub airport."

Meanwhile, almost a third of companies in Northern Ireland reported fewer exports in the last three months of 2011.

A survey of 600 companies commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce found 30% had less export sales, more than the quarter of businesses recorded saying the same three months earlier.

Ms McGregor said: "What the survey shows is that most exporters are effectively treading water, some are beginning to experience a slowdown in business."

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