Future Connectivity Vital for Northern Ireland’s Economic Recovery

Northern Ireland's airports are reportedly in discussions with the government about their ongoing operations and future connectivity with Great Britain and Europe

Northern Ireland’s three airports have reportedly began discussions with the government about securing future operations and connectivity with Great Britain and Europe.

The NI Chamber of Commerce is also urging the government to assist the airports saying “maintaining connectivity will be vital for the region’s economic recovery”.

Currently there are just two passengers flights operating to and from Northern Ireland due to the recent coronavirus lockdown.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster on Friday (April 17), Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he was “working closely with the executive and the Treasury to keep crucial supply lines open and to maintain connections between Northern Ireland and Great Britain”.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds told a committee last week that she had written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to seek support to maintain strong air links between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

“I am hopeful that this intervention will realise a support package,” she told the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“There has been significant pressure on the aviation industry, haulage and ferry companies which has led to a dramatic reduction in our air and sea connectivity.”

While passenger numbers are at an all time low, cargo operations at all air and sea ports continue to operate and bring in vital goods to the Province.

Belfast Harbour, which accounts for 80% of incoming freight, said it has introduced changes to working practices to ensure social distancing and to “enable port operations to continue to run smoothly.”

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Ann McGregor told BBC News NI that “maintaining and growing the number of routes by both air and sea is essential”.

“As a regional economy, Northern Ireland relies heavily on good connectivity to near and far markets,” she said.

“In a post-Brexit environment, we also need to maintain the same access to global markets via London and Dublin that we have now,” she said.

Interim Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh has also written to the Chancellor, saying support was “urgent”.

“I urge you to quickly deliver the financial support package which is essential for critical routes and supply chains to be maintained,” she added.