EasyJet has upped frequency on key routes to Great Britain from Belfast International Airport as it grabs market share after the collapse of Flybe, it has emerged.
While easyJet planes are currently grounded due to coronavirus, its winter 2020 schedule is showing an uplift in frequency on routes from Belfast.
It has upped the number of flights to Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester - all routes which had been served by Flybe.
Earlier this year Northern Ireland lost a key element of connectivity to Great Britain when Flybe, which served 14 routes in Great Britain from Belfast City Airport, went into administration.
A spokeswoman for Belfast International Airport said: "The increase in flights by easyJet to key cities across Great Britain is a vote of confidence in the NI air travel market and also Belfast International Airport particularly at this very difficult time for aviation.
"Northern Ireland relies on high frequency air routes in order to maintain connectivity right across the UK and we are pleased that easyJet have moved quickly to add extra capacity to Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow and Edinburgh."
EasyJet said it was adding 257,000 routes annually on routes once served by Flybe.
Last week Stormont and the UK Department of Transport announced £5.7m in financial support to routes to London from City of Derry Airport and Belfast City - currently the only passenger flights serving Northern Ireland.
EasyJet's move to fill capacity on the routes from Belfast International may make it harder for Belfast City Airport to attract an operator to replace Flybe, which had accounted for about 80% of the airport's passenger movements.
But last week airport chief Brian Ambrose said it was speaking to potential airline partners about filling in the old Flybe routes "and expected to make some positive announcements as we emerge from the Covid-19 outbreak in the weeks and months ahead".
Andrew Charlton, the managing director of aviation consultancy Aviation Advocacy, said it was no surprise that easyJet was planning ahead despite the devastation wrought on the industry by Covid-29. Airlines around the world have grounded their planes as demand falls off a cliff in the coronavirus pandemic.
And large numbers have announced major redundancies, with 12,000 jobs to go at British Airways and 3,000 jobs likely to be lost at Ryanair.
Mr Charlton said airlines must plan ahead despite the present circumstances. "Airlines have to make clear that there is a possibility for economic recovery. The only other alternative is to go into into hibernation and wait for this to pass, and that's unacceptable.
"EasyJet like everyone else has a fleet which they have to use, and they can't make money while their fleet is sitting on the ground.
"Belfast is a good example as with Flybe coming out, there is a market opening up which hadn't been there. They've got employees and aircraft and they've got to use them. They have a good operation in Belfast and this is a good opportunity for them since Flybe fell over."
EasyJet accounts for around 56% of all air passengers travelling in and out of Northern Ireland. However, with the loss of Flybe that is likely to increase to around 80%.