Aviation Sector: Support

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 19th October 2020.

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Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance 2:45 pm, 19th October 2020

3. Mr Blair asked the Minister of Finance to outline any recent discussions he has had with Executive colleagues on targeted support for the aviation sector. (AQO 923/17-22)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I secured Executive agreement to a package of time-limited support measures for the aviation sector in April 2020, as the lockdown resulted in significant reductions in passenger numbers. That package was developed in conjunction with the Economy and Infrastructure Ministers, who have policy responsibilities for aviation. The package provided up to £5·7 million for Belfast City Airport, City of Derry Airport and those airlines that operate the essential flights that help to keep the air bridge open with Britain.

In May, I also announced 100% rate relief for Belfast International Airport, Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport until 31 March 2021. That additional package was worth £2·2 million. In June, the Executive agreed to further support for the airports given the material losses that they are suffering, including continuing to support City of Derry Airport until March 2021. My Department is actively considering what further support might be required to maintain local connectivity, and I understand that other Departments are doing the same.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer. In relation to the help that is available to the aviation sector and, in particular, to Belfast International Airport in my constituency, will he detail any discussions that he has had with the Treasury about the possible removal of domestic air passenger duty?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

No, that has not arisen in our discussions with the Treasury. As the Member will understand, we have focused on some of the schemes that the Treasury offered, including the job retention scheme and the job support scheme that will replace it, as well as some of the loans issues. We are continuing the discussion and have had quite a lot of dialogue with all three airports, collectively and individually, over the past while. We are ascertaining what the key issues are for them and where their key costs lie, including for Belfast International Airport, and we will attempt to put together further support for them based on their needs and requirements at this time.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

It looks as if Belfast International Airport will no longer be able to operate on a 24-hour basis. I am afraid that the Economy Department has been rather laggardly in putting forward bids to support the airport. Will the Minister encourage his Department, which seems to be more capable of getting money for the airports and airlines, to look at the situation and endeavour fairly quickly to make sure that we have at least one aviation facility in Northern Ireland that is fully capable of 24-hour operation?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

As I said, we have had regular and ongoing dialogue with the airports since the start of the pandemic. We recognise very clearly that all three airports are key to connectivity, which in turn is key to our local economy. We are happy to continue that dialogue with Belfast International Airport. Issues that affect the timing of flights are probably beyond my Department's scope, but we have acted, if you like, as a kind of conduit between other Departments in understanding the airports' immediate requirements. We have been talking not only to the Treasury but to the Department for Transport in London about our airports, and we are making sure that local Departments are responding to their needs.

Photo of Gordon Dunne Gordon Dunne DUP

Can the Minister give us an assurance about the manufacturing industry, especially Bombardier, due to the impact from the drop-off in aircraft flights and the risk of the loss of jobs in manufacturing to Bombardier and other suppliers in the supply chain that work tirelessly for manufacturing in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

It would primarily be up to his colleague the Minister for the Economy to bring forward propositions and to engage with those sectors to understand what their losses may be. I understand — the Minister has mentioned it on a number of occasions — about the broader aviation and aviation support industry being very much challenged in the time ahead because orders will drop off and there will be a much longer comeback for them than perhaps for other sectors that might be able to respond more quickly.

I am more than happy to hear from Departments about where they think the critical issues are that need to be addressed. Of course, they will have to quantify that with a bid, and I will be happy to analyse that in order to do some due diligence and present that to the Executive for support.