Belfast International flying high as passenger numbers soar nearly 20%
Passenger numbers at Belfast International Airport jumped by nearly 20% during January, the airport said today.
There were 284,459 passengers using the airport last month, a spokesman said - up from 238,040 a year earlier.
The airport recently announced that budget airline Ryanair will set up a hub next month, beginning with a four-times daily service to London Gatwick.
But the airport said existing airlines were already attracting high numbers.
Managing director Graham Keddie said: "Our January figures are a tribute to our existing airlines, which have added hundreds of thousands of seats.
"EasyJet, Jet 2, United Airlines and Wizz Air are all enjoying increases in passenger traffic."
The airport said it was expecting up to five million passengers this year, up from around 4.4 million last year, which had been an increase of 9% on the year before.
And Ryanair is tipped to carry around one million on six routes in its first full year at its new base. But it's yet to reveal which other destinations it will fly to, apart from Gatwick.
And Mr Keddie said other airlines were planning growth which would help the airport expand, even without Ryanair.
"Some of our airlines are keen to expand the route network to mainland Europe and are only waiting on Tourism Ireland, Invest NI and the Government to come up with appropriate levels of marketing support.
"We've also got the air route development fund, which has been years in the making and which may appear by the end of March.
"We will obviously welcome such a fund and seek our fair share of it."
He said the fund should target routes such as Germany and Scandinavia, which would deliver "inbound" tourists.
"Belfast International and the businesses on the site are creating hundreds of new jobs, and pumping millions of pounds in wages into the Northern Ireland economy. We're an enterprise hub which could deliver thousands more jobs.
"All it needs is an understanding by Government ministers that they're sitting on a 'goldmine'".
According to figures from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Belfast City Airport handled 2.7m passengers during 2015, up 5.4%.
But Belfast International's 9% jump was the biggest increase of Northern Ireland's airports.
City of Derry suffered a huge slump, according to the latest figures from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), with numbers down nearly 18.8% to 284,000.
Meanwhile, an independent inquiry has said a restriction on the number of seats for sale at George Best Belfast City Airport should be removed.
The Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) recommends tight noise restrictions in return for lifting the two million cap on seats that the airport can sell on flights every year.