Belfast Telegraph

Leaving on a jet plane: our record exports

Nearly one third of goods for abroad are transported by air

By Clare Weir

The growing importance of Northern Ireland's airports has been revealed by new data which shows planes carried £1bn worth of exports last year.

The figure, calculated by the airline-backed group the Aviation Foundation using government statistics focusing on tourism, inward investment and exports, represents 31% of all Northern Ireland's exports.

The group also revealed that 59,700 people work in tourism here, a sector heavily reliant on air travel and international visitors and 79,039 people are employed by foreign-owned companies dependent on air links for location and trade. In Belfast almost 17,000 are employed in tourism.

The Aviation Foundation, which carried out the analysis, is backed by BA, Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow and Manchester Airports Group (Mag) as well as trade organisations representing aerospace, airlines and airports across the UK.

In a joint statement Willie Walsh of International Airlines Group, owner of BA, Colin Matthews of Heathrow, Charlie Cornish of Mag and Steve Ridgway of Virgin Atlantic said: "Local businesses across Northern Ireland and the UK desperately need world-class air links. Britain has been a proud pioneer in aviation but we are in danger of taking this for granted and falling behind our better-connected competitors."

Representatives from top names in global aviation are in Belfast for a conference today.

The 21st Century Supply Chains (SC21) event is being hosted at the Titanic building and will prove to be a huge networking event for Northern Ireland firms.

Our firms are poised to reap massive opportunities from the new Aerospace Growth Partnership, a joint industry and government strategy launched in June.

Several Northern Ireland companies have picked up SC21 awards in the past and it is expected that more will achieve bronze and silver awards at today's event.

In July, Moyola Precision Engineering became the first Northern Ireland company to be awarded the SC21 silver award.

Moyola achieved a delivery success rate 95% and 99% and quality between 99.5% and 99.9%.

This summer, a newly-formed aerospace company signed a letter of intent to work with one of the world's biggest aviation firms.

Sigma Aeronautics - which represents six Northern Ireland firms - is to work alongside Spirit AeroSystems, the world's largest supplier of commercial airplane assemblies and components, making fuselages, composites, wings, spares and repairs.

Northern Ireland-born Neil Mc Manus, vice president and managing director Spirit AeroSystems Europe and chairman of SC21 Industry Steering Group is to be a key speaker at the event.