Increase in Belfast business paying dividends for easyJet
easyJet passenger numbers from Belfast have grown around 16% in the last year as a ploy to target business flyers and older holiday makers pays off, the carrier said.
Passenger numbers out of Belfast International, where easyJet employs 240 people, were 1.5m last year, according to UK commercial manager Ali Gayward.
Annual profits at the airline soared 51% yesterday after efforts to attract more business travellers saw it fly more than 60m passengers for the first time.
Profits surged to a new high of £478m in the year to September 30, up from £317m – while easyJet offered more cheer to investors as it revealed plans to hand a £175m windfall to shareholders in a special dividend payment.
The low-cost carrier marked 15 years of flying outside Belfast this year by announcing new routes next year to Bordeaux and Jersey – though it withdraws a flight to London Southend in January.
Over 20 remaining routes from Belfast include those to Gatwick. Luton and Stansted.
Ms Gayward said: "We never like to have to withdraw any routes, but we provide more access to London airports than any other airline. We were serving four London airports and still have the city well and truly covered." She said a drive to woo Northern Ireland's business travellers would continue.
Northern Ireland had seen the same initiatives, such as allocated seating, which had been rolled out across easyJet. "We have been in Belfast for 15 years and it's one of our longest-standing businesses, and a lot of the success we have had in Belfast is mirrored in terms of what we have done as a company and some of the initiatives which have made it into the company as a whole.
"The introduction of allocated seats has been hugely positive for people, getting rid of what they saw as the boarding scrum."
Thanks to measures like allocated seating, the airline was "increasingly attracting older, more affluent customers with higher disposable income, and a higher propensity to travel outside traditional holiday times to locations like Malta". She would not comment directly on whether it could swoop in on any flights currently served by Flybe, as the troubled regional airline embarks on jobs cuts and possible route changes at all its bases.
"We are always looking at new route opportunities out of Belfast as it's a business that's very important to us. The most important thing is to constantly look at the route network to ensure it meets the needs of economy and travellers.
New routes to Bordeaux and Jersey were there to meet demand. "We found a latent demand for people from Northern Ireland wanting to go to parts of regional France to their second home, and who want to go there from Northern Ireland rather than from Dublin or another indirect route."