In a debate in the House of Lords on Monday night, Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Empey of Shandon drew attention to the air connectivity issues that exist within the United Kingdom and ensure efficient communications between our major regions and cities.
Lord Empey said;
“On the 7th December 2011, I introduced the Airports (amendment) Bill 2011 to the Lords, to give the Civil Aviation Authority powers to ring-fence slots at Heathrow for regional flights.
“I have long argued that if you do not have adequate connectivity, it is not going to be possible to build up your business efficiency and attract investment to the regions.
“With regard to Northern Ireland we do not have an alternative to air connectivity to the UK mainland because the ferry connection is not a realistic alternative.
“The issue for me at the moment is that my Bill would give the Government a power which they currently do not have: to ensure that the Civil Aviation Authority can pass judgement on these slots.
“In Monday night’s debate I was pleased to hear the Government Minister Lord Attlee recognise “the vital contribution that air connections make to regional economies and acknowledge Northern Ireland's concerns about the air service between Northern Ireland and Heathrow should BMI be sold to British Airways.”
Lord Attlee also noted that “The options for supporting regional air services to London are limited. Member states can impose public service obligations to protect air services to remote airports, which could permit slots to be ring-fenced. However, they can be imposed only between specific cities, not specific airports”.
“To remedy this I recently introduced the Airports (Amendment) Bill, which would provide for the protection of air services between Heathrow and the UK regions and the provisions of which the Government are now considering in detail.
“I was also pleased to learn that the Government has written to the EU Commission on that point, because there is currently no other mechanism for the Government to intervene in the allocation of slots at UK airports.
“With that in mind I am going to Brussels next month to join my Party colleague Jim Nicholson and meet with Brian Simpson MEP, Chairman of the EU Parliament's Transport Committee to highlight the importance of this issue. This is the next important step to giving the Civil Aviation Authority powers to ring fence slots at Heathrow for the UK regions.”