Belfast has Aer Lingus lift-off
New flights mark major air travel milestone for Ulster
Hundreds of Ulster passengers left Belfast on historic Aer Lingus flights to Amsterdam and Barcelona today, for as little as £19 - marking a major milestone in air travel from the province.
Around 130 people flew from Belfast International Airport to Holland's capital on the inaugural 6.15am flight, which left 10 minutes early and arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule on the other side.
The Barcelona flight, which was due to take off at 10.40am, also appeared to be operating ahead of schedule much to the delight of waiting passengers.
The flights to Amsterdam and Barcelona - as well as to seven other destinations - cost customers as little as £19 one way, plus taxes.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph today, Enda Corneille, corporate affairs director, Aer Lingus, stressed the importance of today for the former State-based carrier.
"We will be serving around 700 people on our six flights today," he said. "It's hugely significant that this is the first international base outside of the Republic and Belfast will become the template for future bases.
"It's also significant for Northern Ireland that Aer Lingus is operating finally from here. Heathrow is going to be huge. In terms of advance bookings on our routes we are where we want to be right now."
One Belfast couple who had just checked into the flight for Barcelona said they were very impressed with the service they had received from Aer Lingus so far.
Jack (35) and Nicola McConnell (33) said they had been tempted by the cheap flights and decided to spend two days in the sun. "It only cost £108 for the both of us," said Nicola, "That's quite good. We were looking at the weather on the internet and it's 14 or 15 degrees. That's better than having to bear a miserable five degrees here."
They also said it was good to see Aer Lingus operating from Belfast.
The budget airline's battle to dominate the skies means Ulster flyers have never had it so good.
Mr Corneille confirmed that the carrier's aim was to offer flights as cheap as possible. "We have opened up a lot of low fare availability to get the routes off to a good start and passengers can expect to pay as little as £19 one way with taxes."
Having narrowly averted strike action over pay and conditions in Northern Ireland, Aer Lingus will from today add a total of nine new routes from Belfast.
There will be two return flights to Amsterdam and one each way to Barcelona.
Tomorrow a new route to Geneva takes off with one flight each way. The London Heathrow route begins three times daily on January 14.
John Doran, managing director of Belfast International Airport confirmed that this morning's inaugural flight to Amsterdam went without a hitch.
"Everything went very smoothly this morning," he said.
"We got off, quite literally, to a flying start and hopefully that is the way it will continue."
He also welcomed the advent of Aer Lingus to Belfast.
"It's an important milestone in our development because we have been working very hard over the past three to four years to broaden our routes and services."
Mr Doran said that already there are scheduled flights leaving from Belfast International to more than 50 other centres in Europe and beyond.
Aer Lingus is investing a total of €150m, basing three planes there and employing 100.
"If you include tourist flights as well we are getting ever closer to the 100 mark in terms of destinations," he said. "We hope Aer Lingus will help us to drive that number up even higher."
Mr Doran said that this year already 5.2 million passengers had passed through the airport's doors. That compared with five million last year and 4.8 million in 2005.
"Our passenger figures are growing steadily year on year and Aer Lingus can only help our progress further.
Just over a month ago three major carriers introduced six new routes from Ulster airports at bargain basement prices.
EasyJet started flying passengers from Belfast International to Gdansk in Poland, while Jet2 began its new service to the holiday island of Tenerife. At George Best City Airport, Ryanair launched flights from as little as £5 one way to London Stansted, Glasgow, Liverpool and East Midlands.