Aer Lingus set to increase Belfast to London flights
Aer Lingus will launch more scheduled flights from Belfast to Heathrow as soon as it can secure the landing slots in London.
With just over a week left before the airline goes head-to-head with BA on the George Best Belfast City Airport to Heathrow route, chief executive Christoph Mueller said he wants to build business between the two airports.
"We want to grow," he said on a visit to Belfast yesterday. "Three times a day to London Heathrow is a start but it's not enough in the long-term. We haven't made a secret of the fact we are after additional slots in Heathrow and one of the destinations we would deploy those is Belfast."
Aer Lingus currently flies to the London airport, along with Alicante, Barcelona, Faro, Malaga, Lanzarote and Tenerife, from Belfast International Airport. But from October 28 it will move its Northern Ireland base to Belfast City Airport from where it will fly just to Heathrow and Gatwick.
That seems to put it in direct competition with BA which recently took over BMI on the Belfast-Heathrow route, but Mr Mueller claimed that wasn't the case: "I would not agree we are in a head-to-head competition with British Airways. It's a different value proposition.
"We are not entering the market to compete with someone, we want to make money. Our costs position is better than the incumbent so we can go in at a lower price point."
Nevertheless, the decision to take on the City Airport-Heathrow route came as a surprise but the rationale for it was based on a change in focus for the airline.
"It is a reflection of a change in strategy for us," he said. "What we are doing is not just shifting from one airport to the next but moving our focus on the island of Ireland away from the sun destinations to Great Britain."
That naturally includes a greater focus on business travellers, a 'middle' market sector Mr Mueller believes wiLl be attracted to Aer Lingus.
"Customers globally want a value proposition," he said. "Nobody wants to be seen in a first class seat now, even if they can afford it, nor do they want to be jostling for their seats. We have positioned ourselves in the middle of the market and we believe the current climate is prepared for that type of product."
The airline has appointed Valerie Abbot as Commercial Manager in Northern Ireland.