Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Empey has said that comments attributed to Willie Walsh, CEO of the IAG Airlines Group about the future of the vital Belfast City to Heathrow air route, illustrates the necessity for his Airports (Amendment) Bill to be passed as soon as possible.
Lord Empey said:
“'In Londonderry yesterday (Thursday 26th April) Willie Walsh, CEO of the IAG Airlines Group, which owns British Airways made certain comments about the future of the Belfast City/ Heathrow air route.
These comments illustrate the necessity for my Airports (Amendment) Bill to be passed as soon as possible. BA has now taken control of BMI airlines.
While fully understanding the damage high air passenger duty (APD) can do to the competitiveness of UK based airlines, Northern Ireland cannot be held to ransom for something beyond its responsibilities.
I have said before and I repeat, that regions must have full access to the national hub airport at Heathrow. This is vital for the economic development of the Province and can only be guaranteed if the Government has power to deal with the disposal by the airlines of landing slots at Heathrow. Currently these are owned by the airlines and government has no power to intervene. Government must be able to ensure that regions have their fair share of access to this airport.
Willie Walsh's intervention today should be a wake up call that this issue needs dealing with as we cannot live in an atmosphere of uncertainty. Its bad for inward investment and bad for business and tourist confidence.'