Concerns about future links to Heathrow from Belfast City Airport have been aired by MPs after Owen Paterson, Secretary for State, admitted that he had been in talks with International Airlines Group CEO Willie Walsh. The company, which owns Iberia and British Airways, is looking to purchase beleaguered carrier BMI from Lufthansa.

Mr Walsh said that AIG’s acquisition of British Midland would be a good thing for the UK. Virgin has also expressed an interest in the company. Lady Sylvia Hermon, North Down MP, said she was worried that the number of services between Belfast and the capital could be dramatically reduced. She added that Mr Paterson’s comments had increased these fears.

Mr Paterson has apologised for what he called a poorly written response to the concerns. Naomi Long, Alliance MP for East Belfast, said she was also concerned about a loss of links between Belfast City and London. Mr Paterson claims that in his talks with Mr Walsh he had stressed that there were concerns.

When he was asked whether he could guarantee that routes would be preserved, Mr Paterson said that he could not comment on Mr Walsh’s intentions as he was currently involved in due diligence.

He did say, however, that he would be continuing a dialogue with the former British Airways boss. A takeover of BMI by IAG would give the company control of more than 50 per cent of the landing and take off slots at one of the busiest airports on the planet; something that worries rivals, including Virgin.