Bosses at City Airport plan to spend more than £15m in upgrade

How the World Duty Free retail area will look after the refurbishment
Gary McDonald Business Editor

BOSSES at George Best Belfast City Airport plan to spend more than £15 million to upgrade its departure lounge, improve the security areas and purchase three new fire appliances.

It will be the biggest infrastructural investment in the airport's 80-year history (it was opened as Belfast Harbour Airport in March 1938 ) and the first since it was sold just over a year ago to a consortium led by 3i Infrastructure in part of a £500m deal.

Details of the major works programme, which is due to be completed by October, will be revealed on Tuesday at a breakfast briefing for stakeholders at the Europa Hotel.

But the Irish News understands the money and approvals are already in place, and work on the terminal enhancements have begun.

Management believe the extensive capital expenditure will further enrich and enhance the overall journey through the airport, which had a passenger throughput of 2,540,000 last year but which it expects to swell to four million by 2020.

Retail space will grow by a third, with an expanded offering from World Duty Free and WH Smith. Food and beverage facilities will be expanded by 25 per cent, with broader choice for customers being introduced along with partner HMS Host, which operates existing facilities including the Bushmills Bar.

Customer seating will be more than doubled, as will air-side customer wash room facilities, which will also be fully refurbished, while the central security search area will be enhanced, aimed at more efficient processing for all departing passengers.

City Airport chief executive Brian Ambrose said: “In keeping with our overall mission of delivering an airport experience that exceeds customers’ expectations, we are fully committed to continually improving the overall journey for our passengers, and this £15 million investment is another significant reinforcement of that commitment.

“The upgrading of the departure lounge and retail offering will provide greater choice and significantly enhance the experience for core business and leisure passengers as they travel through the airport.

“The strategic designs help future-proof the airport, and we look forward to continuing what has been a successful period across many areas of our business.”

Mr Ambrose added: “As a rapidly-evolving city and as one of Belfast City Council’s key stakeholders, we are proud to play a part in supporting Belfast’s growth and in driving forward strategies to further enhance the city’s reputation on a global stage.

“And as a major employer in the city, we will continue working in partnership with the Council and other stakeholders to help further develop a vibrant local economy by improving global connections through our strong network of blue-chip airline partners.”

The new terminal reconfiguration was designed by Todd Architects and the main elements of the refit will be carried out by H&J Martin.

Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons added: “This investment is excellent news for Belfast and for tourism to Northern Ireland.

"As an island, direct, convenient and competitive air access is critical to delivering growth in inbound tourism and any improvement in the experience of our overseas visitors, including travelling through our airports, is very much welcomed.

“We are committed to working with all of our airports and airline partners to maximise opportunities for new and existing flights, helping to deliver further growth in overseas visitor numbers.”

In December 2016 the City Airport was sold to 3i Infrastructure Fund by its owners of eight years, the London-based Eiser Global Infrastructure Fund, in a deal which also included assets in Italy, Spain and England.

Meanwhile 40 jobs are being created at Belfast International Airport by security company ICTS (see page 41).

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