New Belfast to Germany route still on Aer Lingus agenda
Aer Lingus has stated its commitment to the development of a route between Belfast and Germany, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Mike Rutter, the airline's chief commercial officer, said it has been involved in discussions with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) on introducing flights between Northern Ireland and Munich or Frankfurt.
Mr Rutter was in Belfast to publicise the airline's first major announcement for Northern Ireland since it was taken over by British Airways parent IAG in a £1bn deal.
And he stressed that tourism links between Northern Ireland and Germany must be strengthened before a route can be offered. "The size of the business market isn't enough to justify a route between Belfast and Germany," he said. "It's the same in Dublin where 50% of our traffic from Germany is tourism.
"Dublin is now the start and end point of tours for German tourists in Ireland, and we're looking at a certain proportion starting and ending in Belfast instead.
"We've had numerous discussions with Belfast City Airport and with Stormont about putting in place routes to Germany.
"We believe the key to achieving that is to pursue inbound tour operators who use Dublin as their current base."
He said the challenge is demonstrating to the tour operators that Belfast can rival Dublin as a top tourist destination. "It's not that Belfast has nothing to offer but Dublin is tried and tested," he said.
Mr Rutter said Stormont will play a key part in encouraging German tour operators to switch to Belfast. "We would be very clear on Stormont's role but we are happy to play a role in making it happen," he said.
His comments come just a day after the Belfast Telegraph revealed that a long-awaited air route from Northern Ireland to Brussels could be agreed within weeks. The business community in Northern Ireland has long been lobbying for a service between either Belfast City or Belfast International and Germany - a major European business hub.
A European airline, which does not currently operate in Northern Ireland, is understood to be at an "advanced stage" of negotiations to launch a service from the City or Belfast International.
Mr Rutter was speaking in Belfast yesterday as Aer Lingus announced a raft of new flights to tourist destinations next year.
The new schedule will see the airline introduce five services every week to Alicante from the end of next April, representing 40,000 additional seats.
Flights to Palma will increase from two services per week to five, operating on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with 25,000 extra seats.
"We've had a great year this year in terms of increasing penetration of the marketplace in Northern Ireland," added Mr Rutter.
"Aer Lingus was the fastest growing choice to the sun in Belfast in summer 2015.
"This was achieved through a combination of the lowest fares in the market and the convenience of Belfast City Airport."
He added: "We are confident that our choice of routes, combined with our great service and great fares and the convenience of Belfast City Airport, will appeal to Northern Ireland holidaymakers."