Belfast International burning ‘£60,000 per day to keep Northern Ireland open

Belfast International Airport is staying open at the cost of £60,000 a day to ensure Northern Ireland remains open, its managing director has said.
Belfast International airportBelfast International airport
Belfast International airport

All passenger flights have been cancelled at the Co Antrim airport, but it “comes alive” at night with a busy schedule of freight flights bringing supplies in and out of the region.

Of Northern Ireland’s three airports, there are just a small number of connections to London for passengers from Belfast City and City of Derry.

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Belfast International Airport managing director Graham Keddie said although the skies are not as busy as they had been, they see around 16 flights a night, ranging from the Royal Mail to other delivery services transporting goods in and exporting them out.

He told the PA news agency that he is hoping to see passenger flights resume by mid-May, potentially with a no-mask no-fly rule to ensure safety.

“We have remained open seven days a week, 24 hours a day - we ain’t closing,” he said.

“It’s amazing how much is being moved. We come alive again at night, there’s pharmaceuticals going out and coming in, anything that needs to be delivered quickly comes in on the freighters.

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“We believe we have got to keep the cargo operating to keep things moving in NI. You could argue we could shut completely, save ourselves some money, but we’re not prepared to do that, we think the right thing to do is to keep operating, keep cargo going and we are open for business sensibly.

“Essentially keeping us open is costing a cash burn of about £60,000 a day, there is no doubt about it, it will cause us damage down the line but ultimately it’s about our business, it’s about our staff, it’s about things coming back, so you have got to always look on the positive side and I think we have got to be positive and look forward to business coming back again.

“Aviation has had its tough times. I’ve done 30-odd years in the business - currency crises, volcanoes, 9/11. Ultimately we are a very resilient business and we’re lucky that we are an island off an island off a continent, we have to really fly to get anywhere.”

Mr Keddie is currently recovering from Covid-19 himself and stressed he only wants to see the passenger flights return when it is safe to do so.

“The illness is not fun, I was very very lucky.

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“I didn’t have to go into hospital but I was absolutely flattened and (am) still not 100%. I’m OK walking around the house, but as soon as I start doing anything physical, like walking along the lane to put the bins out, I’m panting - and I was always healthy,” he said.

“(Passenger flights resuming) all depends on international travel, agreements and how people will continue to move.

“First of all, to get the domestic operation up and running - 70% of our business is domestic - as quickly as possible but making sure as safely and healthily as possible.

“There are 4-5,000 people work on our site across 250 companies, we need to get those back.

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“Once we get social distancing, once we get safe, we need to start opening up a bit when lockdown finishes, when the medical guys tells us. But for us, the thing is to get back working, safely and healthily.

“We are hoping middle of May for a return of our passenger flights but that could be moveable depending how we work it, both from a Government perspective, airline and airport, but we are trying to put things in place now while the terminal is empty - two metre rule, putting in screens, etc - and we’re working on that as we speak.

“A no-mask, no-fly rule would help us get flying again as a possible solution after lockdown, but as always we will be guided by the science and health experts.”

The airport workers have been putting on displays every Thursday evening for the weekly carers.