British Airways' £300k investment 'proof' of commitment to Belfast City Airport
The boss of one of the world's biggest airlines has said a £300,000 investment in its Belfast base is proof it is committed to flying from Northern Ireland.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways (BA) owner International Airlines Group (IAG), said the redevelopment of its business lounge at George Best Belfast City Airport shows the airline is here to stay, although he doesn't envisage any new routes.
He said the Belfast to Heathrow service has been performing well since the airline took over the route as part of its buyout of BMI in 2012, and he was pleased its planes were established back in Northern Ireland.
British Airways had pulled the Belfast to London route in 2001, an act Mr Walsh said was "foolish behaviour" by his predecessor, but one which he didn't have plans to repeat.
The outspoken former pilot, who was previously head of Dublin-based carrier Aer Lingus, also pointed to the move of the service to Terminal 5 at Heathrow from its current disembarking point in Terminal 1.
"Connectivity is hugely important," he said. "Around 20% of our passengers to and from Belfast connect on to other flights at Heathrow and by moving to Terminal 5 we can reduce minimum connection times by half an hour."
That, Mr Walsh said, is important for the Northern Ireland economy.
"It's critical when you're trying to sell Northern Ireland to overseas investors," he said. "If they can get here easily then they're more likely to invest. The convenience of changing at the same terminal reinforces that. All the research we do shows if you make a service easy for people, it's more likely they'll use it."
Selling the ease of connectivity to the rest of the world to Northern Ireland customers will be seen as a priority for BA, as it competes with international services from Dublin airport.
Aer Lingus, which switched its Northern Ireland base from Belfast International to Belfast City Airport in 2012, is BA's closest competition on the Heathrow route and the Irish flag carrier will continue to fly to Terminal 1.