Belfast Telegraph

EasyJet reports losses of £24m as Belfast travellers on Paris route fall by 2%

Visitors to French capital down following terrorist attacks in city

By Joanne Sweeney

Passenger numbers on EasyJet's Belfast to Paris route fell by 2% after the recent terror attacks, the airline said as it recorded a £24m half-year loss.

Despite the decline, pre-booked Northern Ireland business and leisure passengers continued to visit the French capital after IS unleashed a wave of shootings and suicide bombings last November.

However, the airline admitted that the atrocity did impact last-minute bookings for travellers in the short-term.

UK director Sophie Dekkers told the Belfast Telegraph that the slight dip on the Paris flights was not "significant as it (the airline) still carried over 36,000 passengers" on the route over the full year.

A 16% passenger increase on the Belfast to Reykjavik route and its London routes helped to offset the decline over the six months to the end of March, the UK director added.

Ms Dekkers said the airline was "quite pleased with its results" overall and that its Northern Ireland traffic continued to increase by 13.7% over the last half year.

She also dismissed any potential threat from the return of Ryanair to Belfast with its new International Airport base.

Michael O'Leary's no-frills airline is already running flights to Gatwick and will bring on the bulk of its 11 routes in the autumn.

"Ryanair is only replacing capacity that came out of the Aer Lingus withdrawal (from Belfast International)," said Ms Dekkers.

"We are not ignoring it, but we are not too concerned as we have competed against them before in the market.

"We have grown 16% on the London to Belfast routes over the last six months. We have three times as many flights to London than Ryanair has and the best choice of airport and the best slot times. Let's see what Ryanair actually does, as opposed to what they are claiming they will do."

The low-cost carrier's loss for the half-year contrasted with a £7m profit recorded over the same period during 2015. It said that a £33m foreign exchange rate change mainly impacted on the airline's bottom line and that revenue was down by 2.7% per seat in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks.

Reduced revenues - which were down 1.3% over the period - were down to the suspension of flights to the popular Egyptian tourist destination of Sharm el-Sheikh, following the Russian airliner disaster in October last year.

EasyJet runs 85% of the flight capacity at the International Airport and has 64% of the total Northern Ireland flight travel. It bases five aircraft at the International Airport and employs 230 staff locally.

The company is not alone in reporting a slow start to the year as airlines often register a loss in the traditionally weaker winter period.

Its £7m profit a year ago was rare for a first-half result.

The airline said lower fuel costs brought costs down significantly in the first half, but added this was offset by the impact of the terror attacks.

It also noted it had seen its "best ever" ski season and offered some cheer to holidaymaker as air fares would remain low over the summer, having fallen by 6% in the first half.

Belfast Telegraph