Tourism Fears As New Deals Sought For Belfast City Airport

As the dust settles on the tarmac at George Best Belfast City Airport, fears over its future and the prosperity of local tourism remain after Flybe ceased operations on Thursday.

Northern Ireland's economy is expected to take a major hit from the collapse with concerns for the airport, its staff and the wider tourism and hospitality sector as 80% of flights were pulled from operation overnight.

Negotiations got underway to find replacement services almost as quickly as the airline entered administration, with Scottish operator Loganair stepping in to take over the Inverness and Aberdeen routes.

While the airport's Chief Executive Brian Ambrose tells of a "strong demand" for the routes, tourism officials and trade unions are calling for Government support to protect the regional airport.

The GMB union said the sites deemed at risk are those where more than 50% off scheduled departures last year were a Flybe aircraft.

Some 79.5% of flights from Belfast City were operated by the failed airline, leaving the site among a total of eight regional airports at risk of closure.

Between them, at least 1,000 people are directly employed with a further 794 supply chain jobs also in jeopardy.

Nadine Houghton, GMB National Officer, said: "GMB is calling on the Government to step in and protect the regional airports. These hubs are vital parts of the UK economic infrastructure that communities and regional economies rely on. Without them economic disparities will widen, but now they face closure.
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"Those workers directly affected by the collapse of Flybe and in the supply-chain need financial support to prevent hardship and protect livelihoods.

"We urgently need subsidies for socially necessary routes, funding for transport links and support for local authorities who want to develop airport plans. We will be working with our members and employers to ensure our jobs are protected during this dangerous moment for regional aviation."

Visit Belfast said the demise of Flybe has sparked concern among all those operating within the tourism sector and in other areas of the economy.

Air connectivity has been a key factor in Belfast's tourism renaissance over the past two decades, providing affordable access in to Northern Ireland from a range of regional and international destinations.

Flybe's 14 routes provided a fifth of annual seat capacity into the region from the main UK market.

A spokesperson said: "With over 1.7m visitors annually, tourism generates over £395m each year for the city economy, and supports 19,000 jobs, so it is imperative that industry and government work together to minimise the impact.

"Belfast is still very much accessible from many airports in Great Britain, however to achieve our ambitious growth targets, the city and region need to see a continued uplift in air capacity.

"We welcome today's commitments from Belfast City Airport and both the NI Executive and UK Government to addressing the issue as a matter of urgency.

"Visit Belfast will continue to seek solutions that will address and improve Northern Ireland's connectivity issues and will continue to provide proactive support to the tourism industry, including conference organisers and those most immediately affected."


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