Belfast Telegraph

Ryanair withdraws Belfast flights

Irish airline boss Michael O'Leary has blamed government delays over approving a controversial runway extension for his decision to stop Ryanair flights out of George Best Belfast City Airport.

The outspoken budget airline chief executive launched a blistering attack on the Stormont authorities as he announced that Ryanair would stop using the airport from October 31.

While the 50 Ryanair staff working on the Belfast routes will be offered redeployment opportunities, Mr O'Leary claimed the move would cost 1,000 other jobs that rely on the operator's presence in the city.

His decision comes after a planning application lodged two years ago to extend the runway by around 600 metres (1,968ft), thus opening it up to further afield destinations, was referred to public inquiry by the Stormont government.

"If Belfast doesn't want (it) and the authorities up here don't recognise that Ryanair wants to invest in Belfast, wants to invest in Northern Ireland tourism, but we're not going to beat our head against the bloody wall for more than three years to do it, then to hell with you," said Mr O'Leary.

In a typical colourful press conference in Belfast, the straight-talking entrepreneur said he would be prepared to come back to the airport if the runway was approved.

In the interim, Ryanair flights between Belfast and London Stansted, Liverpool, East Midlands, Bristol and Glasgow Prestwick airports will be withdrawn at the end of October. Passengers who have already booked can apply for a refund.

The airline first set up at the airport in late 2007, operating a number of domestic flights with reduced passenger restrictions while preparing to launch a series of European routes confident that the extension would be granted.

But the proposal was met with fierce opposition by some local residents, who claimed noise levels would soar if planes with heavier payloads were allowed to use the airport.

In the face of competing claims, in March this year Stormont environment minister Edwin Poots referred the matter to the planning appeals commission to conduct a public inquiry. But while the independent probe was due to be undertaken by the end of this year it has been hit by a number of delays and has not yet started.

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