Northern Ireland airport chiefs have been urged to stop cutting each others’ throats as Aer Lingus prepares for its expected shift to George Best Airport.
UUP MLA Danny Kinahan made the appeal yesterday as speculation mounted that the Irish national carrier will move its operation from Belfast International Airport.
The Belfast Telegraph understands that Aer Lingus could be set to offer flights from George Best Airport to Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow airports — if it switches its operations from Belfast International Airport as widely expected.
The Irish airline currently flies to Heathrow and seven European destinations.
Chiefs at George Best Airport and Aer Lingus have declined to comment on the reported move — expected to be announced next week — with both insisting that ‘no such decision’ had been reached.
“It’s pure speculation and they (Aer Lingus) are not going to comment on it,” a spokeswoman for the airline said.
The development follows the departure of BMI Baby from Belfast City Airport — which carried 400,000 passengers a year.
“Following the announcement of the departure of BMI Baby we stated that we were confident that we would attract new airlines to Belfast City. This position has not changed,” an airport spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph.
Flybe currently operates flights from George Best airport to Gatwick, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow — five of the six routes Aer Lingus are set to offer from the same airport. British Airways (BA) also operates a link from George Best Airport to Heathrow.
Mr Kinahan said the development was a “sad day for Northern Ireland”, which could trigger job
losses at Aldergrove Airport and Flybe.
He said: “We do not know what deals are being done, but I think it’s daft because I think we will lose jobs in south Antrim.
“I have spoken to (people at the) International Airport and Flybe today and they are concerned because we are cutting each others’ throats.
“Each (airport) has to survive in today’s difficult market. But it’s really serious now and they are really concerned, as is the aviation industry, about job losses and keeping the airports properly viable.”
Simon Calder, a travel expert and journalist, said the move has good business reasons behind it.
“It makes sense offering Birmingham from Belfast City up against Flybe.
“EasyJet are a very, very powerful competitor so any way they can avoid them they will.
“(But) it’s a good news story for consumers. The competition is the main thing,” he added.
Mr Kinahan disagrees.
“It’s a sad day for Northern Ireland. I fear the only long-term winner will be Dublin,” he said.
“Somehow we will find a way of surviving but there’s always damage at the side (with) people losing their jobs.
“I want to see Northern Ireland thriving as an economy. You must get on with improving infrastructure and providing good links and this is going the other way.”
Aer Lingus is expected to offer a series of routes to UK airports if the move from Belfast International Airport to George Best Airport goes ahead.
The Irish airline will offer flights from George Best Airport to Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow airports.
Flybe currently operates flights from George Best airport to Gatwick, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow and British Airways offers a link from George Best to Heathrow Airport.