Belfast Telegraph

Ministers get roasting from Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary

By Claire Weir

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has launched a stinging attack on Northern Ireland politicians’ failure to reach a decision over a runway extension at Belfast City Airport.

The outspoken airline boss announced he was withdrawing services from the airport at the end of October following confirmation that a public inquiry into the planned runway extension would be further delayed.

Ryanair has been operating from George Best Belfast City Airport since 2007.

The airline currently flies from the City Airport to five locations in the UK — Bristol, the East Midlands, Prestwick, Liverpool and London.

The airline flies about 800,000 passengers a year from the airport.

O’Leary’s decision comes after a planning application which was made two years ago to extend the runway, thus allowing in larger aircraft from further afield, was referred to public inquiry by the Stormont government.

But, with no sign of progress on the inquiry, O’Leary yesterday declared: “Frankly, I’ve had enough.”

However Environment Minister Edwin Poots blamed delays in the process on lawyers.

He told the BBC: “We are very happy to make decisions but there are processes to go through. Ryanair would have had this runway by now if it had not been for lawyers holding up applications.

“We want to make decisions but they are continually being judicially reviewed.”

Other politicians said they would not be sorry to see the back of O’Leary.

Employment and Learning minister Sir Reg Empey said: “Michael O’Leary thought he was more important that everyone else — but I’m afraid he’s not.”

East Belfast MLA Dawn Purvis accused the businessman of throwing a ‘hissy fit’ and UUP Environment Spokesman Roy Beggs said O’Leary “appears to be throwing a tantrum”.

O’Leary said the current runway is too short for the largest of the airline’s 737s, which means they have to fly with a restricted payload of 129, rather than at their capacity of 189.

“We’ve soldiered on for three years and that’s enough,” O’Leary said.

“We have a far better use for the aircraft if Northern Ireland doesn’t want us. There will be a drop of one million passengers a year and one thousand jobs between the airport and local tourism support, over the next 12 months.”

Ryanair services to and from City of Derry airport will not be affected.

He said that 50 Ryanair jobs will be directly affected but that all staff will be offered relocation elsewhere in the UK or Europe.

But he did not close the door completely. “We will be delighted to come back. Give us a runway extension,” he said, adding: “If I get a phonecall saying that there will be a runway in place next March, will we stay? Absolutely.”

He denied the decision was prompted because the five routes from the airport were making losses.

“Belfast City is in the lower half of our profitable airports but it is nowhere near the least profitable,” he said.

“Other airlines are happy to fly from Belfast to the rest of the UK and do a couple of holiday destinations at relatively high fares, to not grow and to put up prices.

“We want to grow. We’ll take our toys and go elsewhere.

“We always blame politicians, but people elect politicians to make decisions and we are waiting three years for this decision.”

Mr O’Leary said he had no interest in taking his business to Aldergrove, which he referred to as “Lough Neagh International Airport”.

The Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau — the body tasked with visitors tourists to the city — said Ryanair’s decision was “disappointing”.

Sir Reg Empey said that he hopes that a new or existing airline will fill the gap left by Ryanair.

“To be honest, Michael O’Leary and his attitude towards local people was part of the whole problem,” he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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