Stormont ministers have been urged to act to help Belfast International Airport remain open 24 hours a day and all week.
Airport chief executive Graham Keddie announced it will close for several hours on certain days this month when there are no scheduled commercial flights, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Keddie said the airport had remained open 24/7 during lockdown at a cost of around £65,000 per day to accommodate medical emergency flights, military and PSNI traffic, the Royal Mail and all cargo flights.
But he said the decision of major airlines to reduce the number of routes they operate had forced the decision to reduce those hours.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken urged Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon to work with Finance Minister Conor Murphy to support the airport.
Ms Mallon said she was disappointed to learn about the planned closures but understood the pressure to reduce costs, and committed to working with other ministers to support the industry.
Mr Aiken pressed further, pointing out that Belfast International Airport was the only 24-hour-operation airport in Northern Ireland and had “significant implications” in terms of commercial aviation, general aviation, fixed-wing air ambulance support, PSNI and the availability as an “alternative diversionary airfield on the edge of the Atlantic”.
Due to COVID-19 and the impact of reduced flight schedules we have taken the difficult decision to close for a few hours on certain days during November when there are no passenger flights operating.— Belfast Airport (@belfastairport) November 13, 2020
“The fact that Northern Ireland does not have a 24-hour-operational airport has a considerable impact, not just on our international reputation, but also on our business to grow and maintain business going forward,” he said.
“Could the minister state whether she is willing to join with the Finance Minister to work together to get a specific bespoke package for Belfast International so it can get back to 24-hour operation for the good of everybody in Northern Ireland, as soon as possible?”
Ms Mallon responded: “The issue of airports cuts across a number of policy areas but also cuts across the statutory responsibilities of a number of ministers, and so I can assure him that just as we did before, I am committed to working with the Minister for Finance, but also the Minister for Economy as well given her responsibility around airlines, and I believe that if we work together that we can support, and we should be able to support, the industry through this incredibly difficult time.”