BA boss urged to retain Belfast airport's vital Heathrow link
Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has urged the boss of British Airways to maintain Belfast’s link with Heathrow if its takeover of BMI goes ahead.
Mr Paterson told Willie Walsh the British Midland service was “vital” when they met at the Northern Ireland Office in London.
But he insisted he could not guarantee the future of the route as the expected takeover of BMI by BA's parent company, IAG, has yet to be completed.
Mr Paterson told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that legal checks were still being carried out ahead of the completion of the deal. He said he had stressed the importance of the service and believed Belfast would fit into BA’s vision of using regional services to link in with international flights.
He added: “I made it clear we think this is of great importance. He made it clear that it fitted in with the British Airways system of maintaining regional spokes going in to a central hub feeding long-haul flights. It seemed to me that our interests coalesce.
“But this is a commercial decision, we can't interfere in how this turns out. All we can do is keep a close eye and keep in close touch, which is exactly what I have agreed with Willie Walsh.”
Mr Paterson was pressed by North Down MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, as to whether he had secured guarantees on the route’s future. He said: “I'm in no position to guarantee anything because when I saw him on Friday evening he was still going through due diligence. This is all commercially sensitive.”
Alliance MP Naomi Long, whose East Belfast constituency includes the City Airport, said the service was used by commuters, not international travellers, and feared Heathrow would prioritise its landing slot for “through” services connecting with international routes.