August now busiest month for Belfast International Airport following surge in new routes
August has replaced July as the busiest month at Belfast International Airport for the first time in its history - fuelled by new Ryanair routes and low-cost flights, it has been claimed.
Boss Graham Keddie said that while the full picture for the 2,000-passenger spike was not completely clear, it could be down to a surge in customers from the Republic, along with an increase in new routes.
Around 534,000 people passed through the airport in August - up by 14.% on the same period a year earlier.
Mr Keddie said the airport would create another 100 jobs as a result, on top of the hundreds of indirect posts revealed this year with the arrival of Ryanair.
In the first eight months, the airport handled 3.38 million passengers. Mr Keddie said it expected to deal with five million by year end, with that growing by a further 500,000 by 2017.
"It's increased load and capacity across the board," he added. "In August we have seen growth, particularly from the south. The weaker pound helped."
He said an increasing number of people from the Republic were now using Belfast, due to the cheaper costs with weak sterling.
"July is a strange month anyway," he said. "It's peak holiday, from our perspective, and it will be interesting to see the trend.
"It's the first time it's ever happened. We have a lot of additional capacity and the load factors are very high. You can just see the terminal is very busy. In September, the growth for the first four days has been even better than August.
"I'd like to see it growing going forward, and we are already talking about another jobs fair in November."
It is also expected that Ryanair might make a further announcement soon regarding its Belfast routes.
Asked whether Dublin Airport remained a threat to business, Mr Keddie said: "It's always going to be an issue for us, until we sort a proper aviation strategy, with air passenger duty (APD). Ultimately, that's what it will be about."
He said he believed people booking last-minute flights may be choosing Northern Ireland instead of Dublin due to the strong exchange rate from euros into sterling.
"Anecdotally, there are a lot more southern cars in the car parks," he said.
"What's really interesting is the market from Great Britain has been very strong with people coming to Northern Ireland."
A number of airlines fly from Belfast International, including easyJet, Ryanair and Jet2. "It will be interesting to see the August hotel figures and I would imagine the North has had a very good month," Mr Keddie said.
Mr Keddie also said he was "very happy" with the performance of Ryanair,since Michael O'Leary's budget airline announced its return to a Belfast airport back in January.
"It's above what we thought it would be," he said.
There had been big demand for inbound fights from Berlin and Milan. Mr Keddie said: "To put in a performance where August was busier than the traditional holiday getaway month of July tells us much about airline choice and passenger patterns.
"We've had the launch of four new routes with Ryanair this month, with four more next month and two in November.
"EasyJet, Jet2.com and Wizz are reporting impressive demand. Therefore we can say with certainty that further increases in passenger numbers are inevitable.
"Of course, increased airline and passenger activity lead to demand for on-site services.
"We have created some 800 new jobs since the end of last year in supply and service companies, security, aircraft handling, passenger facilities and food outlets."