Belfast Telegraph

Bmi chief leads charge against travel levy hike

The chief executive of British Midland International (bmi) brought his campaign against increased charges for domestic passengers through Heathrow Airport to Belfast yesterday.

Wolfgang-Prock Schauer held meetings with Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster and business leaders, touching on issues including the hike in levies to be imposed from next month by Heathrow owner BAA.

The airline has already lodged a complaint with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) over the jump in charges from £13 to £20 per person.

Mr Schauer said bmi risked losing 7% to 8% of its passengers on the crucial Belfast City to Heathrow route, the jewel in the crown of its operations in Northern Ireland.

"It could be that we have to reduce our fares in order to stay competitive. It could mean higher fares. We have to wait and see," he said.

But after his meetings yesterday, Mr Schauer said: "We have the support of everybody here."

BAA's new charging structure brings domestic passenger levies in line with those applied to passengers travelling overseas - though bmi argues domestic passengers use fewer airport facilities and should therefore have to pay less.

Despite the threat posed by charges, Mr Schauer said the future of the route from Belfast City to Heathrow was secure.

Irish airline Aer Lingus flies from Belfast International to Heathrow, though bmi commands around three quarters of traffic to the airport from the province.

"We have seen improvements in our market share of perhaps a couple of percentage points," Mr Schauer added.

Bmibaby start flying to Stansted later this month, but Mr Schauer, who ran India's Jet Airways before coming to bmi, said he expected little overlap with the Heathrow route.

He also dismissed speculation that Lufthansa would off-load bmi after the British carrier made a £198m loss in 2009. "This is a long-term integration."

The Austrian said he had been recruited to "turn around" the airline's fortunes following the loss and is overseeing a second £100m restructuring plan. "The loss will be improved in 2010 and we will return to profitability in the medium-term."

He implemented the transfer of budget sister airline bmibaby's operations from Belfast International to join bmi at Belfast City Airport.