Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary today accused Environment Minister Edwin Poots of costing 500 new jobs by ordering a public inquiry into plans for a runway extension at Belfast City Airport.
The outspoken airline boss said he had been in discussions with the George Best airport about launching five to 10 new European routes which, he said, would have brought in up to 500,000 extra passengers a year – sustaining 500 new jobs in and around the airport.
However, the decision by Minister Poots to refer the planning application to public inquiry will mean a delay of at least 18 months, Mr O’Leary said at a press conference at the Europa Hotel this morning.
He said Belfast’s loss will now be gained by Spanish and Italian |airports which are able to offer lower costs and unrestricted airport facilities.
“We will continue to work with our partners in Belfast City Airport to assist the public inquiry but want to apologise to the people of Northern Ireland that the low fare access to continental Europe, which Ryanair’s new route would have delivered at Belfast City Airport, will be now be delayed by at least 18 months,” he said.
Dressed in typically casual style with a check shirt and jeans, Ryanair’s colourful CEO delivered the news in his trademark stream-of-consciousness style.
He insisted that there is no noise issue for residents in east Belfast as Ryanair do not run flights throughout the night.
Mr O’Leary also said he was disappointed now that Northern Ireland had had its chance to govern itself, but had gone for a ‘fudge’ and decided not to make a decision.
“We are used to such indecision and incompetence down in Dublin but we had higher hopes for up here.” he said, warning that Northern Ireland’s economy would lose out.
And he ruled out ever launching new routes from Belfast International Airport if the public inquiry went against the runway, saying that 800,000 Ryanair passengers a year “don’t want to make the long and lonely journey to the shores of Lough Neagh”.
The controversial chief, who has previously dismissed the residents living near the Belfast City Airport as “mewling and puking” said he did not believe there was any local opposition.
“I think the public inquiry will expose the absence of any real public opposition to growth at Belfast City,” he added.
“Without a longer runway we can’t operate European routes into Belfast City Airport.”
Mr O’Leary said he had been considering launching five to 10 new destinations some of them to Germany, Belgium and Italy where Northern Ireland has no direct services.
He promised Ryanair’s existing services from Belfast City to London, Glasgow Prestwick, Liverpool, East Midlands and Bristol would continue “for the moment although passenger and baggage numbers continue to be impacted by the short runway”.
Ryanair today released 50,000 seats on its five Belfast City routes for travel in May and June at a fare of just £5 including taxes and charges.
“These £5 seats can be purchased today on the ryanair.com website until midnight Monday, April 12,” he said.
Belfast City Airport has been at the centre of a long-running row over its hopes to extend the runway to allow bigger planes to land. The proposals in strongly opposed by local residents who say this will increase noise levels.