Easyjet unveils new route and reveals £7m pre-tax profit
Easyjet is due to unveil a major new European route from Belfast in the coming weeks, its boss in Ireland has said.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, easyJet's head of Ireland Ali Gayward said around six or seven locations were in the running for a new direct route from Belfast International Airport - starting in winter.
But she wouldn't be drawn on speculation a direct Belfast route to Copenhagen was on the cards.
And it's believed the old Berlin route is one which could be revived, or alternate links to other German cities including Hamburg or Frankfurt - which could draw both business and tourism traffic.
It comes as the airline managed to swing to a £7m pre-tax profit in the six months to March 31. "We are in the final options of evaluating some opportunities," Ms Gayward said.
"What's important to us is there are a number of options. Berlin is one we used to operate, and there are other markets.
"That's what we are evaluating - we will be starting in winter, and we hope to make a decision later on in the summer."
And she said some routes on the table were "brand new" while some had "been there previously".
"Belfast has performed very well for us. The new Iceland route has performed very well," she said.
"But also, around 80% of our traffic is domestic flights with Great Britain - and they have performed very well."
Those business routes including London Gatwick and Stansted.
But Ms Gayward said the airline is also keen to compete with Belfast City Airport, and bring in a direct route to London Heathrow if the go-ahead is given for the airport's expansion.
"When we look at extra runway capacity, we have stated we support the Heathrow expansion - that's where customers are telling us they want to go," she said.
"In today's environment, a single slot sold for £25m, showing the scarcity."
And she said the airline was continuing to fight for the abolition of air passenger duty (APD) in Northern Ireland on short-haul flights - the bulk of those leaving our airports - in order for us to compete with the Republic.
"It's critical in Northern Ireland when we have seen the abolition in the Republic. We are lobbying for the complete abolition.
"The UK rate is the highest in Europe, and second highest in the world."
EasyJet managed to turn around a profit for the six months to March 31, up from £53m loss a year ago.
"This is first time we have made a profit in winter since 2002 - winter is when we would normally make losses," Ms Gayward said
"To have achieved this, when it was a £53m loss last year, puts us in a really strong position moving forward."
It had recently forecast it would make somewhere between a loss of £5m and profit of £10m in the winter period when airlines traditionally report a shortfall.
The last time the airline was in the black in its winter season was in 2002, when it posted a £1m profit. The airline said its cost per seat fell 1.4% to £38.66, due to a decline in oil prices and helped by strong October trading and the timing of Easter.
The firm's load factor - a key industry measure which indicates how full its planes are - improved 0.7% to 89.7% against the same period a year ago.
EasyJet, which has a fleet of 230 planes, said it expects its fuel bill to be between £95m to £120m lower than last year.