Belfast Telegraph

Sky's the limit for successful business in spite of some recent turbulence

By Claire Weir

Once a Royal Air Force training base during the First World War, Belfast International Airport is now the second largest airport on the island of Ireland.

Northern Ireland's first regular civil aviation service began at Aldergrove in 1933 and five years later, the facility was branded as Belfast International Airport. It was privatised in July 1994.

It is now 15 years since easyJet started operating flights out of Belfast International Airport and the budget airline recently announced two new routes to the Channel Islands and south-west France next year – while dropping a service to Southend in Kent.

EasyJet's first route from Belfast was to Luton and it changed the face of air travel for many living in Northern Ireland. Since then the carrier has flown over 32m people to and from Belfast, making it the most popular airline for travellers to and from the region. easyJet currently employs more than 200 people at Belfast International and flies to destinations including Nice and Krakow.

As well as easyJet, the facility is also served by holiday flight specialists Thomas Cook and Thomson, as well as and United, which flies Northern Ireland's only direct scheduled flight to the USA.

Continental Airlines – now United – started the direct service between Belfast International Airport and New York Newark in 2005.

There was turbulence back in 2011 when the route, which is worth around £20m to the local economy, was threatened by the huge increase in Air Passenger Duty (APD) proposed by the Treasury. It meant that a levy of at least £60 would be imposed on each US-bound passenger and had travellers from Northern Ireland switching instead to Dublin Airport, where the charge is just €3. But after negotiations between the airline, Belfast International Airport, Stormont Executive ministers and the UK Treasury officials, the route – which flies 100,000 passengers a year – was reprieved.

However the APD levy is still a bone of contention and a recent refurbishment of the security screening area has received mixed reviews from passengers.

More than 500,000 Northern Ireland residents used Dublin Airport in 2012, a 15% increase on 2011.

The statistics from Dublin Airport Authority said that the number of Northern Ireland-based passengers using Dublin Airport has almost doubled since 2010.

Belfast Telegraph