Onwards and er... upwards

Looking forward to a brighter future togther and independently, London City CEO Declan Collier and Belfast City's Brian Ambrose
Government in London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff should pay attention to the contribution and the needs of the UK’s airports as key drivers for employment and revenue.

Government in London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff should pay attention to the contribution and the needs of the UK’s airports as key drivers for employment and revenue.

That’s one of the key planks of an unofficial manifesto from one of the industry’s newest and, on the evidence so far, highly successful partnerships.

It was towards the end of last year that Flybe announced its new flight from Belfast City Airport to London City, linking the centres of the two cities.

As the the carrier announced last week it was increasing the frequency of the service to four flights a day to meet demand, the heads of both airports said there was scope for each to prosper with the right encouragement and support.

Brian Ambrose is a happy man these days having brought BA, Aer Lingus and most recently KLM to the east Belfast airport - right on the doorstep, he is quick to stress, of the burgeoning financial and business support services in Titanic Quarter.

Declan Collier, is chief executive London from where many of those Titanic Quarter offices are run.

The resulting business is good for them both and both has plans to expand as business and tourism-based continues to grow but there are problems they say that hinder the industry at a time when it is, literally, ready to take off.

“In London we are suffering from success,” says Collier.

“We have grown passenger numbers by 20 per cent and we expect to be over four million passengers by the end of this year and we need to expand the infrastructure. We have an existing permission to increase the number of flights to 120,000 a year from 70,000 and we have a planning application currently awaiting a decision to build an additional number of stands and expand the terminal buildings.

“London is growing and within the next 15 years 2.5 million people will be added to the population but 60 per cent will live in east London in the same timeframe, so the development is gigantic and the connection then between Belfast and the growing part of what is a world city will be really important.

“There is also very significant inward investment from abroad and just across the water from our runway we have the development of a quarter called Asian Business Ports; 50 Chinese and Asian multi-nationals establishing their headquarters there. That’s a 20,000 jobs, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, £2 billion project and it’s there because London City Airport is on their doorstep, it gives the connection in there and I think Brian has tapped into the same thing in Belfast. Titanic Quarter and the development there and the growth of financial services business as a start and Belfast City being right on its doorstep is a huge opportunity.

Of course the financial services sector is not the only draw in Titanic Quarter.

“More than 90 per cent of the visitors who fly into Dublin never come north,” says Ambrose.

“The fact is that if we bring Dutch visitors in this year, 100 per cent of them will spend time in Belfast and Northern Ireland.

“As yet Northern Ireland has no direct air access to Germany and yet it is a big inbound tourism market. That would extend the season because the typical Germand tourist is not so weather sensitive; they like the outdoors, they like walking and fishing. So we are really eager to expand we are optimistic that next summer we will be able to grow into that market and start to give Belfast direct access into Europe.”

APD, says Collier, is an outstanding issue that must be addressed.

“This business supports one million jobs and £52m worth of GDP. As an indsutry we are really important to the UK economy and unless we have the licence to grow we cannot contribute as much as we could.

“It seems to me to be completely inequitable that someone travelling from Nothern Ireland or Scotland or Newcastle to London to do business and create wealth and jobs and support jobs, is actually being taxed to make that journey and I think that has to be addresssed.”