Heathrow capacity hindering Northern Ireland economy, says lobby group

Over stretched capacity at Heathrow airport will damage Northern Ireland's economic growth, says the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Giving evidence at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee's inquiry into an air transport strategy for the country, the CBI's Northern Ireland director general Nigel Smyth warned that the country needed to improve its airport connectivity or risk missing economic targets.

Speaking at Westminster, he said: "Air connectivity is vital for our exporters, our tourist industry and to attract Foreign Direct Investment."

"With the UK's only international hub airport, Heathrow, operating at 99% capacity there will be increasing tensions between the demands for increasing international routes and maintaining good regional access."

Information released by the Northern Ireland's Chamber of Commerce earlier in the year stated that aviation plays a key role in the country's economy, supporting £1 billion worth of exports.

He added: "Unless capacity is increased in the short/medium term there is an increasing risk that Northern Ireland's connectivity with this global hub will be put at risk."

One in ten jobs in Northern Ireland depends on foreign investment, with half of those companies only able to reach their home market through a hub airport.

The CBI also called for the Government to avoid any future increases to the Air Passenger Duty (APD) rate, or face mounting pressure to devolve all powers regarding the tax to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The APD rate for direct long-haul routes from Northern Ireland airports was cut in November last year, with a decision to devolve all long-haul taxes to the Northern Ireland Assembly made in the Finance Bill 2012.

A report by the assembly's finance and personnel committee suggested that the power to set duty on short-haul flights from Northern Ireland should also be devolved.