The gloves came off today in a battle for market share between Aer Lingus and bmi on the Belfast to London Heathrow route.
After Aer Lingus highlighted Civil Aviation Authority data which showed it had secured a 41.75% share of the traffic in August — despite having just 30% of the capacity — bmi hit back. Brenda Morgan, sales manager for bmi in Northern Ireland accused Aer Lingus of “distorting the market” by giving away seats for free.
She said the Irish airline had included Belfast in its free seats offers, which started on August 1.
All told, Aer Lingus put 250,000 seats on its routes from Ireland to Britain on the market for free, with passengers being required to pay just the taxes and charges.
Ms Morgan said: “If you give away seats for free, then clearly any airline will be able to fill its seats.
“This is a case of Aer Lingus buying market share.
“In fact, if you look at the first seven months of this year, Aer Lingus’ share of the Belfast to London market works out at just 31%.
“At bmi we are maintaining our current timetable of eight flights a day, giving passengers a wide choice of departure times, while Aer Lingus is proposing to reduce its capacity by cutting back from four flights to three a day this winter on its Heathrow service.”
Aer Lingus claimed it was on its way to taking half of the market share from bmi on the London route.
The airline’s corporate affairs director Enda Corneille said the new CAA figures showed that the marketplace was responding to its low fares, and accused bmi of having “ripped off” the public.
Mr Corneille said the airline was on schedule to take more than 700,000 bookings in time for its first anniversary of flying from Belfast International on December 10. He added: “The response from our customers is very encouraging, not alone on our Heathrow service but on all of our routes from Belfast, with performance at the new base more than meeting our expectations.”
Responding to bmi’s comments, an Aer Lingus spokesman in Belfast added: “Bmi can dress this up any way they want. All we’ve done is quote independent CAA statistics.
Aer Lingus started its service from Aldergrove to London in January, while bmi, which flies from City Airport, will next year celebrate its 25th year of operation betrween Belfast and London.
Both Aer Lingus and bmi own valuable slots at Heathrow Airport, and there have been calls in recent years for the slots to be ringfenced for the Belfast route.
Aer Lingus now operates 11 routes from Aldergrove.