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Easyjet Northern Ireland passenger numbers take off, but airline posts losses of £236m

By John Mulgrew

Easyjet has posted a loss of almost £240m on the back of currency swings and the early Easter, despite an increase in its number of Northern Irish passengers.

The low-cost carrier reported a £236m pre-tax loss in the six months to March 31, which compares with an £18m loss for the same period last year.

Passenger numbers to and from Belfast International, from which the firm runs 28 routes, rose by 2.5% to 1.9 million.

Sophie Dekkers, easyJet's UK director, told this newspaper the company had plans in place for the country leaving the EU.

"We are setting up a European operating certificate for internal EU flying," she said.

Last month, the boss of Jet2 warned that losing the open skies agreement, which allows carriers to fly anywhere within the EU, would have a "terrible" impact on the airline industry.

While easyJet already has a licence to operate here, Ms Dekkers said a lack of agreement over a post-Brexit solution could mean having to negotiate bilateral agreements with each EU member state.

She also confirmed, however, that she company had no plans to reduce or alter the number of aircraft it operates here because of the withdrawal process.

Ryanair has already said it will slow plans for growth in the UK because of the referendum result.

Ms Dekkers said: "There are two reasons which contributed to making it the largest loss.

"(One) was due to foreign exchange rates, which had an impact of £82m on our profits for the first half."

And she said with Easter falling in April, it meant many trips were not included in the first three months of 2017 - the second half of easyJet's six-month period - costing £45m in the latest results.

But Ms Dekkers added: "We are still carrying more passengers. Of the 21 years we have been operating, 19 years we have made a loss in the first half. It is a cyclical (occurrence) which affects every airline.

"We are looking at a few different things. Forward bookings look strong for summer - signals are that people are rebooking their summer holidays. We are seeing destinations like Turkey improve... hotel prices are very good."

And she said Belfast had performed well: "For the first half, there were 1.9 million passengers, up 2.5% year-on-year, and we operate 28 routes from Belfast. Routes like Spain and Portugal are performing very well."

Ms Dekkers said the return of Ryanair to the city was not having a major impact. "It's not having a massive impact to be honest," she added. "Our frequency is higher than Ryanair's (on the link to Gatwick)."

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