Jet2 ready to take off with six new routes from Belfast
Extra destinations could create 50 jobs at International Airport
Belfast International Airport is getting six new sun-spot routes with Jet2 next summer as it continues its fightback against Dublin, it can be revealed.
It's understood Jet2 will add six new destinations from the airport, and another two routes which are already serviced by other airlines. Among the new routes is a direct flight from Belfast to Naples, in southern Italy.
The announcement is set to be made tomorrow, as around 1,200 delegates are packing into Belfast's Waterfront Hall for the Routes Europe conference.
"There's a very positive announcement on Wednesday and a number of new routes will be announced, and a number of new jobs. We think upwards of 50," Belfast International managing director Graham Keddie said.
"We have upgraded our growth forecast from 5.4 million (passengers in 2017) to 5.6 million, and that's conservative. This conference has actually given us some good chatter. If you get people talking to you, you've always got a good chance of getting them over the line. Once you get them here, they discover what this place is. 95% of people at this event have never been to Northern Ireland."
It's believed the airport could also add at least one new route with another existing airline next year.
But Mr Keddie says that the number of people from Northern Ireland flying from Dublin Airport “has slowed”.
“The flow of passengers to Dublin has slowed as our fightback shows results. Choice and price are crucial, but currency exchange rates also play a part.
“We are seeing increased number of southern registrations in our car parks, and we believe that is up over 50%.
“We are seeing substantial numbers of southern passport holders using us.”
It’s believed growth in the number of Northern Ireland passengers flying from Dublin dropped in 2016. The airport is yet to release a breakdown of official figures, but it’s understood it will do so in the next few weeks.
A year earlier, a record 1.2 million journeys were taken by Northern Ireland residents through Dublin Airport — an increase of 37% on the previous 12 months.
Kenny Jacobs, chief marketing officer of Ryanair, said part of the decrease in Northern Ireland passenger number growth could be down to the airline’s huge expansion in Belfast.
It currently has around a dozen routes from Belfast International Airport.
“Us going from zero to 1.3 million (passengers in Belfast) is a key part of that,” he explained.
“But it’s possible for Belfast and other airports to get more of that.”
He said there remains “a lot of scope” for more expansion at Ryanair.
“The moving parts are uncertainty on Brexit and unfortunately Northern Ireland is part of that.”
Steven Small, Routes Europe brand director, said tomorrow’s Waterfront event was where air route deals get done.
And speaking about renewed calls to scrap air passenger duty (APD) — a £13 tax on most flights out of the UK — Belfast City Airport boss Brian Ambrose said it would deliver a “step change” for the tourism industry.
He said his airport lost a Madrid route last year to Cork, and was told the reason was the lack of APD in the Irish Republic.
“The additional income to the economy will offset that loss (from the block grant), so it’s a net benefit,” Mr Ambrose said.