Belfast Telegraph

Airport defiant as Ryanair pulls out

By Margaret Canning

George Best Belfast City Airport has vowed to attract new airlines to the routes vacated by Ryanair.

The budget airline's flamboyant chief Michael O'Leary announced he was withdrawing from Belfast City after three years, in protest at the time taken for an inquiry into plans for a runway extension.

Ryanair said one million passengers flew to Glasgow Prestwick, London Stansted, Bristol, Liverpool and East Midlands from Belfast City this year.

Katy Best, business development director at the airport, said the airport was "very confident we will be operating these routes again" as their performance with Ryanair made them a "warm bed" for other airlines.

"Certainly there are a number of airlines who operate from those airports at the other end which have made expressions of interest today and we will be having commercial discussions with them."

Ryanair yesterday refused to confirm the cost of its departure from Belfast - but a spokesman said relations with the airport were good.

Business groups reacted with dismay to the withdrawal. Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said the province had benefited from a wide range of travel options in the last decade. "We are not yet aware of Ryanair's long-term plans for the local market but I would hope that any decrease in the levels of competition would not result in higher costs for business," she said.

Economist John Simpson said the departure of Ryanair could amount to a loss of £5.5m per year to the City Airport, based on its passengers accounting for one third of the 2.6 million who passed through last year, when turnover was around £17m.

But he added: "The real loss is people in those areas who might have come to Belfast for their short breaks. They will now chose somewhere else. And with those people going somewhere else, we lose out on their spending."

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Traders Association, said the loss of Ryanair was bad news for the economy. "Many visitors from the five Ryanair UK routes shopped in Belfast city centre and other towns and cities throughout Northern Ireland."