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Lord Empey stresses importance of Westminster legislation to secure long-term future of Belfast-Heathrow air link

Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Empey has commented on the recent visit to Northern Ireland by the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee which took evidence on air transport strategy at Stormont yesterday (Monday).

Following the visit Lord Empey said:

 'I note the concerns being expressed by those who appeared before the NI Affairs Committee at Stormont.

However, most of this concern cannot be addressed without a change in the law to prevent the airlines, which own the slots at Heathrow, from being able to ride roughshod over the regions of the UK.'

'I introduced a Bill last year into Parliament, the Airports (Amendment) Bill 2011, which seeks to give powers to the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that there is adequate access from regional airports to the main national hub airport at Heathrow.'

'This Bill had its second reading on 16th March and is now being sent to Committee stage.'

'Receiving guarantees from individual airlines today is of little use for the long term. Airlines come and go; look at Ryanair and the demise of BMI. What one chief Executive may promise today can be dismissed tomorrow by a subsequent owner.'

'I have long said that there is no immediate threat to services from Belfast to Heathrow, but the long term is unclear.'

'What is certain is that the Government currently has no proper powers to intervene if something goes wrong. This is unacceptable.'

'There is a big European dimension to this problem as aviation is one area where HMG has given a competence to the EU to intervene and set guidelines for the conduct of the airline industry. Europe is, by co-incidence, currently looking at these issues and I have travelled to Brussels to lobby in support of the Northern Ireland case, as well as the rest of the UK regions.'

 'Only by following this process through until we get the necessary changes made to both domestic and European law will Northern Ireland have its full air access rights guaranteed.'

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