Ryanair returns to Belfast: London Gatwick first of six routes with 750 jobs created
...but there's no sign of Michael O'Leary
Ryanair has returned to Belfast after almost six years away - bringing six new routes over the course of the year
The budget airline is setting up a new hub at Belfast International Airport, creating 90 jobs, while it said a total of 750 could be created over the course of the next 18 months.
It's confident it can bring in an additional one million passengers, and is starting flights to Gatwick from March.
But it's not unveiling a further five routes until October. There had been strong speculation that could include Berlin, but this morning Ryanair's David O'Brien said reports were "premature".
It ceased flights from Belfast City Airport in 2010 following delays to a planned runway extension. It wanted a longer runway so that it could operate flights to a number of European destinations.
This morning, Ryanair called for the abolition of "outrageous" air taxes in Northern Ireland before any decision is made on operating European flights from Belfast.
Ryanair's chief commercial officer David O'Brien reiterated calls for an end to the £13-a-flight tax.
The low-cost Irish airline confirmed that it will operate a four times daily service to London Gatwick from Belfast International from March and said five more routes are to follow in October.
Those destinations have not been decided and could concentrate on UK airports if movement is not secured on cutting tax, Ryanair chief commercial officer David O'Brien said.
He added: "We are not asking the Government for money, we are asking them to stop taking money from us and if they don't we will make decisions on that basis."
Dublin has abolished its air passenger duty and has seen massive increases in passenger numbers. Many travellers from Northern Ireland use services there where fares can be lower because of the different tax system.
However removing APD could result in a large reduction in the block grant from Westminster which runs public services in Northern Ireland.
Belfast International Airport managing director, Graham Keddie, said: “This is a most welcome announcement. The jobs and investment are considerable and amount to a valuable inward investment at low or no cost to the taxpayer.
“The full range of destinations to be served by Ryanair will be revealed later in the year, but from an airport perspective, the potential to add more than one million additional passengers will have a dramatic effect on our business."
Niall Gibbons, chief executive of of Tourism Ireland, said:
"Today’s announcement is good news for tourism to Northern Ireland, as we kick off our 2016 promotional drive – particularly given Ryanair’s statement to introduce additional flights this autumn. We already work closely with Ryanair and we look forward to co-operating with them to maximise the promotion of this new flight from London Gatwick to Belfast. As an island, the importance of convenient, direct, non-stop flights cannot be overstated – they are absolutely critical to achieving growth in inbound tourism."
And the SDLP's Patsy McGlone MLA, chair of the Enterprise Trade and Investment Committee, said:
"This multi-million pound expansion offers serious potential for tourism and business here and is expected to add one million passengers using Belfast International Airport every year. Along with the 750 new jobs immediately created by the airline, it could also help develop the Aldergrove site and the surrounding area creating even more jobs.
"Over the years we have seen more and more passengers choosing to travel to and from Dublin which has offered a more frequent and cheaper flights. The first confirmed route to Gatwick from the famed budget airline will put Belfast in the same league as Dublin for commuters traveling to Ireland from London. It will offer more choice to very discerning consumers."
Alliance Leader and South Antrim MLA David Ford said the news would mean employment opportunities in the immediate area.
“Airports can act as catalysts – they drive business activity and serve as platforms for enterprise. The airport is at the heart of my constituency and is now set to grow above the five million passenger mark in an exciting expansion.
“My earnest hope is we can now push this sector up the list of economic priorities and develop new routes, together with the resultant inbound tourism opportunities.”
South Antrim Ulster Unionist MP, Danny Kinahan, said Ryanair’s move to open a base at Belfast International Airport will help drive passenger numbers to an all-time high.
"I wish to welcome this heart-warming and very positive development. The jobs, investment and route development are crucial for my constituency and the regional economy and the impact cannot be over-stated.
“This will power growth at the International Airport. It will lead to at least one million additional passengers, which means that it’s highly likely the airport will set a new record this year.
“All of those involved in delivering this significant development are to be congratulated. It is so vital that we continue to increase Northern Ireland’s links to other economies and today’s announcement provides more options for people wanting to travel here, whether for business or as tourists."