Belfast Telegraph

Belfast International flies back into profit following £1.6m loss

By John Mulgrew

Belfast International Airport claimed it could add one million extra seats a year if air passenger duty (APD) was scrapped as it yesterday revealed a dramatic turnaround from a £1.6m loss to strong pre-tax profits.

Managing director Graham Keddie said the airport was bidding for new airlines and discussing adding additional flights with existing carriers.

Mr Keddie spoke to the Belfast Telegraph as it was revealed that turnover at the airport had risen from £31.1m to £34.8m for the year ending December 2016.

Belfast International also recorded pre-tax profits of £611,000, rebounding from a £1.6m loss.

Passenger numbers rose during the period, climbing 17% from 4.4 million to 5.2 million. Mr Keddie expects 5.8 million passengers this year.

The increase put the airport on course to reach a passenger number record, fuelled by the arrival of Ryanair and increased traffic for other airlines.

"Passenger numbers were up 17%, which is a huge amount of growth," Mr Keddie said before praising the airport's ability to manage costs and growth in other parts of the business such as concessions.

"Those are the things that have driven it (the airport's performance)," he added. "It has freed up more cash for capital expenditure."

While Belfast International is already planning approximately £13m of investment, that could rise in light of the positive results.

"The passenger numbers for us have really driven the growth," Mr Keddie said.

"We reckon that in the last 18 months, over 800 jobs have been created on the site.

"With our staff numbers, they grew 12% last year, and this year we have added 13%.

"As we speak, we have 200 staff. We are up from about 157 in 2015."

Asked whether the airport could add new routes or airlines, Mr Keddie (right) replied: "We talk to them (carriers) constantly. We are looking around and talking to one of our carriers about additional aircraft, biding with a new airline and in the mix with a number of different carriers.

"It would help if we had a route development fund.

"The big one for us is APD. If the Chancellor can get rid of APD, we have the sign-off for one million extra seats. It would be massive for jobs, not just for us, but the other two airports as well. With APD (removed) we would be able to grow dramatically."

Operating profit at the airport was £2.8m, more than five times the figure a year earlier.

"Passenger growth is leading to investment by our providers, with food and beverage provider SSP showing the way with an investment of £2.5m in its outlets," Mr Keddie said.

"JD Sport has taken the last unit we have available and we're currently looking at ways of creating additional retail space airside to accommodate investor demand.

"We will add hundreds more jobs during 2018 with major investments that are in the pipeline.

"We will also work to add new routes from existing and new airlines.

"We are offering a real alternative to Dublin, which is suffering from a strong euro.

"We will continue to draw more lucrative business from the Republic of Ireland in 2018."

Belfast Telegraph

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