Heathrow third runway would adversely affect Belfast City Airport, says Boris Johnson
A third runway at Heathrow airport could see the number of direct flights to Belfast slashed, London Mayor Boris Johnson has claimed.
He said Northern Ireland is particularly vulnerable as it has no land links to the rest of the UK.
The proposed third runway at Heathrow has been under discussion for almost a decade, and has sparked massive controversy.
Critics have voiced fears over the environmental effect, while others argue that Gatwick should be extended with a second runway instead. Now Mr Johnson has highlighted an Airports Commission prediction that an expanded Heathrow would accommodate fewer domestic routes - reducing the number of British airports connected to the UK hub from seven to four.
Belfast City Airport is currently the only airport in Northern Ireland which runs routes to Heathrow.
However, there are fears the frequency of these may decrease with competition on the route to be limited following the purchase of Aer Lingus by IAG, owner of British Airways.
It has also emerged that the number of daily flights between Northern Ireland and Heathrow has dramatically dropped since 1996 by 53% - from 19 a day to just nine.
This is a common pattern across the UK, with the number of British cities served by Heathrow having plummeted by more than 60% from 18 routes in 1990 to just seven today. Mr Johnson has written to authorities around the UK expressing his concerns about the proposed expansion of Heathrow, saying a third runway will deliver fewer domestic routes and only 12 new long-haul destinations.
"Having connections with the UK hub airport is hugely important for Northern Ireland," said Mr Johnson.
"Those connections allow businesses to trade and secure investment across the globe.
"But the truth is that Heathrow has been failing our regions for well over a quarter of a century and quite staggeringly the Airports Commission's own analysis shows that the construction of a third runway only worsens the situation.
"The only long-term solution that would enable British businesses to compete on a level playing field with our European competitors is to build a four-runway hub airport, and the only logical location for that airport is to the east of London."
Queen's University Belfast economists Dr Chris Colvin and Edward Mills have also expressed concerns about the expansion of Heathrow.
Mr Johnson is calling for people to write to their MPs to press Government over whether routes to their region from Heathrow will be protected.