Belfast Telegraph

Belfast-Heathrow route safe, claims BA owners

By David Elliot and Graeme Evans

The owner of British Airways has reiterated its commitment to the Belfast-Heathrow air route as it announced a sharp profits rise.

International Airlines Group (IAG), formed after the merger of British Airways and Spanish airline Iberia, recently announced an agreement with Lufthansa to buy bmi but is waiting on regulatory and union approval before completing the takeover.

"We have already committed to continue flights from Heathrow to Belfast and will increase services to Scotland," chief executive Willie Walsh said.

"Without this deal, links to the UK regions would not be safeguarded."

He said the deal is waiting for the green light.

"While subject to regulatory approval, we plan to integrate bmi mainline into British Airways following agreement by BA pilots to make productivity changes that justify the integration," he added.

"This deal gives us the ability to grow at Heathrow by launching new long-haul routes to growth economies and supporting our short-haul network."

IAG saw profits jump to €503m (£426m) from €84m (£70m) a year earlier after passenger revenues increased 11% to €13.6bn (£11.5bn).

The company said fuel costs were up by nearly 30% in 2011 to €5.1bn (£4.3bn) and that at current prices it expects the bill will rise this year by a further €1bn (£850m).

It also warned that British Airways' performance this summer may be impacted by the Olympics, with past experience suggesting that demand could be dampened.

The group added that ongoing developments in the eurozone will be a major factor in its growth this year, especially for its Iberia operation.

However, it said demand in London remained strong, with encouraging trends seen in the second half of last year continuing in long-haul premium cabins, particularly on North Atlantic routes.

British Airways paid almost £500m in air passenger duty last year and IAG warned that a further 8% rise due in April will limit the number of new jobs it will be able to create this year.

The airline group warned that higher fuel costs and weaker European markets will mean a reduction in results for the first half of this year, although it expects the pressures to reduce as 2012 progresses.

Despite the warning, shares in the group were 3% higher in London yesterday.