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CBI chief: We must improve airport links to emerging markets


Gatwick airport is keen to land a second runway in the near future

Gatwick airport is keen to land a second runway in the near future

Gatwick airport is keen to land a second runway in the near future

​Northern Ireland's economic growth depends on air links that will allow it to grab its share of the world's emerging markets, business leaders have told the chairman of Gatwick Airport.

Sir Roy McNulty, unveiled this week as chairman of Newry-based Norbrook Laboratories, heard that secure access to London as a destination and a hub to the Middle and Far East was paramount for Northern Ireland.

The former chairman of Shorts plc was in Belfast yesterday to appeal for support for Gatwick's campaign to secure the UK's next runway over rival Heathrow.

The move was part of an ongoing consultation on whether to grant Heathrow a third new runway or Gatwick its second in a process led by Sir Howard Davies, who is expected to publish a final report by next summer.

Representatives from the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the two main airports, tourist chiefs and politicians joined the round table talks.

On top of the need for frequent and price competitive services to London and the ease of transfers to connecting flights, the protection of slots for airlines servicing Northern Ireland routes and the burden of air passenger duty (APD) were raised.

Nigel Smyth, director of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said Northern Ireland was "lagging behind" other countries' air access to emerging markets in the East.

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Countries such as Germany and France enjoyed several routes to Chinese cities and he said. "We need better access to these emerging markets."

And he pointed to recent research which put a value on potential trade that Northern Ireland was missing out on as a result. "Each and every daily route to an emerging market is worth as much as £128m in new trade across the UK," he said.

Uel Hoey, business development manager of Belfast International Airport, said the burden of air passenger duty (APD) in Northern Ireland, which is payable on short-haul routes, was "skewing behaviour" towards international hubs like Dublin and Amsterdam.

He said that the taxes were resulting in 1.6 million people from Northern Ireland setting off on tourist and business trips from Dublin as opposed to London's international hubs.

The gathering was also told that passengers from within Great Britain were 'back-hauling' - flying west to Dublin to avoid the tax before continuing west on routes across Europe.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said Northern Ireland's "splendid isolation" from the rest of the UK made business and tourism "entirely reliant" on air routes.

"Travel by air is not a luxury but an essential element of family and economic life and the importance of this cannot be overstated," he said.