Ryanair landing at Belfast International with 750 jobs
Ryanair has said it will bring a million more passengers through its new Belfast International Airport hub, but it is holding the Executive's feet over the fire on cutting air passenger duty.
The airline, which is investing $300m (£200m) in three new planes, said it would create 750 jobs when it begins flying four times to London Gatwick daily, before launching around five new routes later in the year. The hub will open in March.
Ryanair is yet to confirm the rest of the routes, but they are expected to be made up of a European city destination, a sun route and domestic links.
It is six years since the budget carrier pulled out of Belfast City airport, following delays to a planned runway extension.
Ryanair chief commercial officer David O'Brien unveiled the airline's long-anticipated return to the city yesterday.
But Mr O'Brien, along with Belfast International Airport boss Graham Keddie, renewed fresh calls for an end to air passenger duty (APD).
APD is a £13 tax applied to the majority of flights out of Northern Ireland.
Mr O'Brien said the Government was "going to have to stop asking for the money they are looking" in APD.
"We don't want any money from the Government," he added.
"It's a question how much they are looking from us.
"We would just like them to stop asking us for it, as they don't really deserve it."
But he said the airline "hadn't decided" on the rest of the routes to be introduced here.
"We need to have a better understanding of what it is the Government of Northern Ireland wants," Mr O'Brien insisted.
"The easiest thing for Ryanair to do would be to fly to Liverpool, Manchester and so on. Do the usual thing. Fly for less than an hour, beat the competition in service and in price.
"I understand there is a desire to increase the connections in Northern Ireland. We recognise that and are open to discussions, not just with the airport but with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment."
On reports Berlin was on the cards as a new route for the airline, he said that was "premature", adding decisions on where to go "will be based on cost".
Belfast International's goal to land Ryanair has been almost 20 years in the making.
"It's fantastic news," said airport managing director Graham Keddie. "This will create up to 750 in-site jobs."
The jobs will be available over the next 18 months, with around 600,000 new passengers passing through the airport in 2016.
Asked whether he had any concerns Ryanair could get cold feet down the line and leave Belfast once again, Mr Keddie said: "I think this is always an issue, and as a customer we have to manage that relationship. And we have to be effective at doing that."
Meanwhile, despite reassurances that Ryanair's City of Derry schedules would not change, it was yesterday revealed that Ryanair was ending the airport's Alicante route.
"We have no plans to change our operations at City of Derry," Mr O'Brien had previously said.
The budget airline recently cracked the 100 million-a-year passenger mark.