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£7.8m rescue package 'a life-line for devastated airports', says Belfast International boss'

Belfast International Airport will be able to remain open 24/7 after the Executive confirmed a financial support package. Picture by Hugh Russell.

Emergency financial support for airports is a much-needed "lifeline", Belfast International has said.

Up to £7.8 million in Stormont funding is being made available for Belfast International and Belfast City airports.

This was in addition to the 12-month rates holiday already provided. The year-long rates break for the north’s three main airports will be worth around £2.7m in 2020/21, finance minister Conor Murphy said.

Official measures forcing holidaymakers to quarantine to hamper spread of the virus from overseas, as well as repeated lockdowns across the UK, have crippled aviation.

Passenger footfall through Belfast International, Belfast City and City of Derry airports’ terminals was down by around 80 per cent in October on normal levels.

Belfast International managing director Graham Keddie said: "The Executive's financial support package is a much-needed lifeline that will help ensure we remain open 24/7 and can continue to keep Northern Ireland connected.

"Covid has had a devastating impact on our sector and this announcement will help secure jobs across our site."

READ MORE: Marginal recovery in activity at Belfast International Airport wiped out in October

In May, Aldergrove announced it will lay off up to 45 staff due to fears the airline industry will not bounce back quickly from the pandemic.

Its managing director paid tribute to the "tireless" efforts of Mr Murphy and economy minister Diane Dodds in securing the official funding.

Mr Keddie said: "It will also enable us to continue to provide cover and support for all medical emergency flights, the Royal Mail, cargo operations for all online purchases as well as facilitating all PSNI and MoD flights."

Chief executive at Belfast City Airport, Brian Ambrose said the assistance will ensure the airport will be able to provide connectivity throughout the winter months. 

“We welcome the ongoing support from Minister Murphy’s department and the wider Executive, who recognise the strategic importance of Belfast City Airport within our economy."

Conor Murphy said the aviation sector had been severely impacted by Covid-19.

"Our airports and airlines have seen an unprecedented drop in demand with passenger numbers not expected to return to pre-Covid levels in the short term."

He said the pandemic has led to dramatically scaled-back operations, reduced operating hours and significant financial losses.

"Airports and airlines are a critical part of our economic structure and it is vital they are supported to ensure connectivity for citizens and freight is maintained," he added.

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