Call for freight help at Belfast International Airport
Aldergrove could lose out to Dublin on lucrative freight traffic unless an Enterprise Zone is created, campaigners have said.
Belfast International Airport is the third largest handler of air freight in the UK outside of London, but rapid growth at Dublin Airport threatens to challenge its long-term future, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) added.
The lobby organisation has written to politicians calling for the development of a special trade area, where the state offers incentives like tax concessions to stimulate business investment and road upgrades to improve access to the Co Antrim site.
FTA Northern Ireland manager Seamus Leheny said: "Millions are being spent on attracting and retaining investment in high-end manufacturing such as pharmaceuticals and aircraft parts, which all rely on air freight in their supply chain.
"Urgent action is needed to ensure Belfast International Airport is an attractive prospect for investors and has the necessary infrastructure to support efficient air freight operations. Road improvements and the development of an Enterprise Zone would help achieve this aim.
"BIA is Northern Ireland's only air cargo facility but operators could switch to Dublin if it becomes a cheaper option, impacting on local logistics firms and the wider economy."
The number of Northern Ireland residents using Dublin Airport increased by 52% to a record 864,000 in 2014, according to Dublin Airport.
The Association said continued growth could affect BIA's ability to attract long-haul flights, limiting its freight operations. The sustainability of BIA's air cargo facility could also be threatened.
Mr Leheny aded: "As a designated Enterprise Zone BIA could offer a range of financial incentives for businesses like those in place at Manchester Airport, which was the first in the UK to develop an 'airport city'.
"FTA is calling on MPs to support BIA's proposals to help sustain its long-term future."