Business

Stormont ‘blocked Munich connection' Aldergrove claims

An air connection to Munich was on the cards for Northern Ireland

NORTHERN Ireland missed out on a direct air route to Munich because the Stormont executive wouldn't stump the £200,000 to get the deal across the line.

The chief executive of Belfast International Airport Graham Keddie made that claim during evidence to the Northern Ireland Select Committee at Westminster.

Representatives of the north's three commercial airports were appearing before an inquiry into how to boost tourism through tax measures.

They argued air passenger duty (APD) should be scrapped to encourage airlines to increase the number of routes coming into Aldergrove, George Best Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport.

It is thought between £40 million and £60m would come off the executive's block grant should the matter be devolved - but a Stormont backed report said that would make the venture economically unviable.

Direct flights to Germany are often cited as the most sought-after new routes for the north.

But Mr Keddie said that when he went to politicians with plans to launch services into the country, it was rejected.

"We went with a Munich route to the executive. We essentially needed £200,000 and we got less that that so it didn't happen," he said.

That was among a raft of criticisms levelled at government by Mr Keddie who accused the executive of "bottling it" on APD.

He said thousands of new jobs would be created and dozens of new air routes developed if APD was removed to put the north "on a level playing field" with Dublin where the duty was scrapped.

Last week, budget carrier Ryanair announced its return to Belfast with the setting up of a base at the international airport - but said several planned European routes could only come to fruition if APD was scrapped.

It is understood to be looking at connections to Berlin and Barcelona among others.

Mr Keddie said: “Our passenger number grew to 4.4 million last year and this year we are confident of breaking the five million-mark.

“That may sound a lot, but it’s really only the tip of the iceberg. We could reasonably double in size to over eight million.

"A growth level of that magnitude would be a real game-changer. It would see the sector create some 3,000 jobs and open up new opportunities for scores of local small supplier firms.

“We’re missing a beat. It’s as if they’re scared of doing something against the advice of their civil servants. They’ve even produced a report which recommends doing nothing when what’s really required is a collective bit of courage to get on with the job.

Belfast City Airport chief executive Brian Ambrose said getting rid of APD was "not rocket science," but said it should be scrapped UK-wide and not affect the north's block grant.

He said airports were growing but doing so "with one arm tied behind our back".

"It's a departure tax of £26 on a return flight. It's not unusual for airlines to offer return fares for £100 so that is 25 per cent of your cost which doesn't leave much of a margin," he told MPs.

APD was removed from long haul flights in the north to prevent Continental from pulling its Belfast to New York connection.

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