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Margaret Canning

Flybe collapse came as no great surprise to Belfast City Airport

Margaret Canning


The collapse of Flybe means the loss of 81% of George Best Belfast City Airport's flights on at least a temporary basis.

It’s the worst setback for George Best Belfast City Airport of recent times — not to mention the inconvenience to passengers on its 14 routes.

The airport last faced a crisis on this scale in 2010 when Ryanair announced it was leaving after continued delays in the prospects for a runway extension, which the airline regarded as crucial to its future there. Ten years on, the runway remains the same length and Ryanair is now based at Belfast International.

But only five routes were lost at that point, which flew 800,000 passengers – whereas last year Flybe flew around 1.6 million people in and out of Belfast on 14 routes.

One industry watcher reflects a sense of inevitability about last night’s news, remarking:

“Over the last 20 years, Flybe has been mainly loss-making, and only really turned a profit in the too rare boom times.

“Its cost base was too high for the markets it operated in and against the proper low-cost players like easyJet.”

Belfast City Airport has said it’s been in talks for some time with airlines who could potentially plug the gaps on at least some the routes.

The collapse of Flybe has been well-signposted so the airport will have been planning for this for some time.

Aer Lingus Regional has been touted as one potential saviour, and even Ryanair could make a limited return — but of course the runway size will remain a sticking point.

In the past easyJet has also tested the water on a London Luton route from Belfast City, and could make a return on other routes.

Flybe has pointed to the impact of coronavirus on bookings as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

But the fact that coronavirus has led to airlines cancelling flights on other routes could in theory led to move availability of their planes to pick up on routes left by Flybe.

The more profitable ones like Belfast to Manchester, London City and Glasgow will gladly be taken up. London City is a particularly useful link for the business community as it’s only a short distance from the centre of London.

But it’s likely that others such as Newquay in Cornwall will be beyond rescue. At Southampton, 93% of flights are operated by Flybe — making it even more dependent on the airline than Belfast City. But what could save Southampton is that it’s a useful destination for cruise passengers who can hop on a ship from there.

So while the collapse of Flybe means inconvenience and hassle for its stranded passengers, it probably hasn’t caught Belfast City Airport on the hop.

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