Blow for Belfast as Ryanair and Aer Lingus cut routes
Ryanair and Aer Lingus are scaling back their operations from Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport, it can be revealed today.
The shock move was slammed by DUP MP Ian Paisley, who described the move as "dirty Dublin tricks attacking Northern Ireland's tourism business".
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the North Antrim MP said: "It's absolutely scandalous. This is a failure by Tourism Ireland to support Northern Ireland's airports."
Referring to the airlines, he said: "They're all pulling back and operating out of to Dublin - and that is not good for Northern Ireland business.
"Where is Tourism Ireland protecting Northern Ireland jobs?
"Tourism Ireland have to demonstrate what they are doing to attract these businesses back to Belfast airports.
"It confirms what I said at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster that the strategy is to make Dublin the gateway and destroy the other airports."
The MP said it was his understanding that implementation of the airlines' pull-back was imminent.
Belfast International Airport flights to destinations such as Manchester, Berlin and Lanzarote would be among those affected by the plan.
Ryanair is not the main airline operating out of BIA. EasyJet represents around 80% of Belfast International Airport's business and it's operations are unaffected.
It's understood that negotiations are already under way to replace the lost flights and destinations as soon as possible through other carriers.
Industry sources last night blamed the UK's Air Passenger Duty (APD) for the airlines' decision. APD - a controversial tax imposed on air travellers that varies depending on destination and class of travel - only applies to short haul flights from Northern Ireland.
The tax can mean up to £26 in tax on any return domestic flight.
"It's crippling," the industry source said. "It adds a massive amount to the ticket price."
There is no equivalent tax on flights from the Irish Republic.
Chief executives of Belfast International, Belfast City and the City of Derry Airports have lobbied for the tax to be abolished on short haul flights.
In October 2010, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary pulled the airline out of Belfast City Airport, after a public inquiry into a planned runway extension was delayed.
In March this year, Ryanair cut the number of flights it operates from Belfast International Airport.
It dropped three Polish routes to Gdansk, Warsaw and Wroclaw as well as flights to Malta.
It blamed Air Passenger Duty and the "weak UK market" at the time.
Earlier this year, Mr Paisley told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that Tourism Ireland favours the Republic, despite its cross-border remit.
He also suggested that 70% of Dublin Airport's marketing budget was spent in Northern Ireland in a bid to "poach" tourists.
At the time, Dublin Airport dismissed as "totally false" claims by Mr Paisley that it is aggressively targeting tourists arriving in Belfast.
Aer Lingus has sub-contracted flights out of Belfast City Airport to Faro in Portugal and Malaga in Spain to ASL Airlines Ireland since mid-2018.
An Aer Lingus spokesperson said: “Aer Lingus has decided to discontinue its services from Belfast City Airport to Faro and Malaga for the Summer 2020.
"The decision was made following a commercial review which determined that the routes were not performing in line with expectations. In 2020 Aer Lingus will continue to deliver a high frequency daily service between Belfast City and London Heathrow.
"In summer 2019 Aer Lingus increased frequencies on the route to 4 times daily on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays."
A Belfast International Airport spokeswoman said: “Naturally, we are extremely disappointed at this further reduction in service.
"The airport has worked hard with Ryanair over the last four years to build, develop and sustain these direct routes.
"Yet again this highlights the taxation disadvantage posed by Air Passenger Duty (APD) on airlines operating from Northern Ireland.
"We have consistently highlighted the problem which Air Passenger Duty (APD) in Northern Ireland creates for air service development and job creation.
"Our hope now is that with this news, the Government will see the damage that APD continues to do to our sector and the impediment the tax creates to attracting and maintaining services.
"By failing to remove the competitive barrier that is APD, the government is denying Northern Ireland passengers destination choice and an air travel sector that offers considerable potential.
"There remains a strong market demand for direct air services to those destinations which will no longer be served by Ryanair. We have already secured some additional capacity to the Canary Islands and will continue to work with our airline partners to replace lost services.”
Neither Belfast City Airport or Ryanair offered any comment on the scaling down of services.