The future of a private company coach route between Belfast and Dublin Airport is in doubt due to a dramatic fall in numbers using the service, the Business Telegraph can reveal.
Aircoach has told its 11 bus drivers on the cross-border route that they may lose their jobs as the company considers whether the route is still viable.
The firm faces steep competition from Translink — and the growing inclination of Northern Irish passengers to take their cars to Dublin Airport as improvements to the road are made. The Newry bypass was opened last month, reducing travel time to Dublin Airport from Belfast to well under two hours. In addition, the number of passengers from Northern Ireland using Dublin Airport has fallen since Ryanair and Aer Lingus set up hubs in Northern Ireland airports.
The number of overseas visitors to the Republic is also in decline, with just over two million visiting between January and May in 2010, compared to 2.9 million in the same period in 2008.
A spokesman for Aircoach — which is owned by British company First Group — said: “Aircoach is currently in discussions with its employees on the future of its Dublin Airport to Belfast route. This route has been operating since 2004 and employs 11 people to operate 10 return services daily.
“Aircoach will not comment any further on these discussions until they have been concluded. They are expected to conclude in mid-September during which normal |service will continue.
“The company’s routes from Ballsbridge, Greystones, Dalkey, Leopardstown and Cork to Dublin Airport are not affected.”
Blue Aircoach vehicles have been a frequent sight on the main road between Dublin and Belfast.
It is understood the company has been forced to reconsider the route as the numbers using it have fallen dramatically. But the company is expected to retain an office in Belfast.
One possibility is that the company may limit the Belfast to Dublin service to the summer time.
Aircoach was founded in 1999 by Irish entrepreneur John O’Sullivan to bring passengers to Dublin Airport, breaking the Dublin Bus monopoly on carrying passengers to the airport.
University of Ulster economist Mike Smyth said falling passengers at Dublin Airport would have had a detrimental impact on numbers using Aircoach. “Public transport links between Belfast and Dublin have been a declining market with the exchange rate movements a contributory factor.
“The recession will have also caused a decline in the discretionary market of people using Dublin Airport. People travelling between the two cities on a regular basis for work will not have used it because of the extra time it takes — but people travelling long-haul will, and that market has dipped.”
John O’Sullivan, who left Aircoach in 2005 after selling his shareholding, has established a Dublin Coach company, while also setting up a Quick Park car park in Santry with a bus link to the airport. He is the first private |operator to challenge the Dublin Airport Authority’s car park monopoly.