More than 1,000 delegates will come to Belfast in 2017 for a conference that aims to shape the world’s future air networks.
Routes Europe is an international event that is said to “bring together decision makers from airlines, airports and tourism authorities to negotiate and build relationships that will shape the world’s future air route networks”.
By holding such an event in Northern Ireland, it should have the by-product of boosting Northern Ireland as a destination.
Gerard Brown, head of Future Hosting, Routes UBM EMEA, said that delegates “will be exposed to the business and tourism opportunities that exist in Northern Ireland and our hosts will have the opportunity to showcase the unprecedented £300m tourism infrastructure investment of recent years to the Routes community”.
There has, however, been a major missed opportunity in terms of Northern Ireland’s transport infrastructure.
Consider Belfast International Airport and Dublin Airport.
It is easy now to get from greater Belfast to Dublin Airport, because there is a motorway to the door, and travellers from Northern Ireland do not get caught up in congestion around Dublin. But the reverse is not true of the Belfast airports. A traveller from Dublin has to travel through the Westlink to get to Belfast City, or to crawl along the A26 at lorry (or sometimes even tractor) pace to get to Aldergrove.
Thus, while Dublin Airport gets a large percentage of northern travellers, our airports get an almost non-existent percentage of southern travellers.
The upgrade of the Westlink-M2-M3 junction at York Street will improve access. But an expressway road linking the M2 and M1, passing near Belfast International, is badly needed.
This will put the two main Northern Ireland airports little more than a 90-minute drive from greater Dublin. It will not revolutionise the fortunes of our airports, but it will help.
It will also improve airport access from within the Province.