Empey hopes support for Heathrow bill will take off
Former UUP leader Lord Empey has presented a bill in the House of Lords which he hopes will preserve the links between Belfast City and Heathrow airports.
His bill, to amend the Airports Act 1986, has been read and Lord Empey hopes it will go on to be adopted by the British Government.
However, he says the Bill will ‘have to go to Brussels’ to be considered by the chair of the European Transport Committee.
The Bill will ensure that transport links between Heathrow and regional hubs are maintained.
The measures were introduced following the announcement of the takeover of BMI by British Airways. There are growing concerns in the Northern Ireland business and political communities that the takeover may lead to severe cuts in routes between London Heathrow and Belfast city as some of BMI's Heathrow landing slots may be used for international flights.
BMI currently operates flights between Heathrow and Belfast City George Best Airport.
Maintaining the Belfast to London Heathrow service has been highlighted as important to both business and leisure passengers and vital to the Northern Ireland economy.
Lord Empey told the Community Telegraph: “On November 5 there was a debate in the House of Lords about the Bill.
“It received good support from the opposition and there seems to be a fair degree of support for this bill in general.
“I’m really hoping for the for a second reading of this Bill, it is on the waiting list for a second reading, but a private member’s Bill is hard to get passed so I’m, hoping the Government take it on.
“It is a big issue for connectivity between Northern Ireland and England. If you make it more difficult for businesses to come here we won’t receive their investment and the leisure industry could suffer as well,” he added.
UUP MLA for east Belfast, Michael Copeland said: “Lord Empey has attempted to ensure that market forces are not applied to these routes at the detriment of Northern Irish travellers.
“He has kept me informed at every stage of this process and his efforts are continuing to benefit east Belfast and Northern Ireland from his position in the House of Lords.”
Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, welcomed the announcement that the Belfast City to Heathrow route could be maintained.
He said: “Any commercial changes would normally throw present arrangements into disarray, however in this case it is clear that commitment to maintaining present flights is key to the business sector.
Belfast City delivers direct and quick access to and from London Heathrow, the link to Northern Ireland in terms of both business and leisure travellers is essential for the local economy and the Belfast City —Heathrow route underlines the dependency on high frequency connection for domestic and International flights.”
“This will give security to those who depend on the Belfast City — Heathrow link,” he said, adding that it could yet go to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.
Success would mean jobs secured, flights strengthened and a direct accessible flight for a large sector of the population, he added.