Budget airline Jet2 is facing questions after resuming flights at Belfast International Airport - but only from an alternative runway despite repeated safety assurances.
Travellers were left in confusion last night after the airline lifted its temporary ban on flying to and from the airport after two days.
But it insisted it still had safety concerns about the airport’s main runway and would now be using the alternative North/South landing strip.
Jet2 announced on Monday that it had halted flights from Aldergrove because of safety fears over maintenance work to the main runway.
It said its planes had suffered “engine-related problems” three times in the last three weeks – a period when work on a resurfacing programme had been disrupted due to adverse weather conditions.
But the Civil Aviation Authority has insisted the runway is safe - and no other airline has refused to use it or reported problems.
A spokesman for Jet2 confirmed that it resumed flights yesterday from the alternative runway after a “detailed safety assessment”.
“We have come to an agreement with the airport that we will now operate all our flights using the alternative North/South runway,” the spokesman said.
“This decision follows close consultation with the airport and a detailed safety assessment conducted today. All our customers due to travel from Belfast International this week should go to the airport as normal. We would like to apologise for the inconvenience this has caused, however the safety of our customers is of paramount importance and we will not operate from Belfast International Airport’s main runway until the resurfacing has finished.”
Alan Whiteside, director of operations at the International Airport, stressed there were no safety issues - or evidence to suggest that problems experienced by the airline was due to runway maintenance.
He added the return of Jet2 services will “eliminate unnecessary inconvenience and confusion” for passengers.
“In reality, the North/South runway option was always available to Jet2, or indeed to any other operator,” he continued.
“Nothing of substance has changed since the airline made its announcement on Sunday, and there remains no conclusive evidence linking the reported problems with the runway resurfacing programme. None of the other operators, including easyJet which is Northern Ireland's largest airline, have concerns using the main runway.”
Mr Whiteside added: “One Jet2 aircraft has been reported as exhibiting engine-related problems on three occasions. No other airline, nor indeed any other Jet2 aircraft or aircraft of this type, has reported any similar issue. A full investigation is underway to assess what actually occurred. At this stage, there is no conclusive evidence connecting these reported problems with the runway maintenance.”
There are currently four other airlines which operate from Aldergrove including United Airlines and easyJet.
Danny Kinahan, UUP MLA for South Antrim, said passengers shouldn't be concerned as he raised questions about why Jet2 is the only airline with concerns.
“It seemed illogical that only one airline would suspend their flights due to safety fears but none of the other airlines did. There is no safety issue here and no one should be concerned.
“I would tell people to have faith in the airport as there are no problems with their safety record,” he added.
Antrim Mayor Roy Thompson said he had “100% faith in the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the other airlines who are continuing to use the main runway”.
“I would support and am behind the recommendations of the CAA,” he added.
“I understand they close the runway overnight for maintenance work but everything, including safety, is checked before the first flight the next morning. They have everything above board.
“When major airlines like easyJet are happy with the main runway, who am I to argue with that. I am planning to speak with the CAA as a result of this and I will invite them to put out a statement about their position.”