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Just the ticket: How the air fares battle will benefit Ulster

By Claire McNeilly

The chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board last night said he was delighted that the cut-throat air fares war was intensifying.

Alan Clarke's comments come after three major carriers introduced six new routes from Ulster airports at bargain basement prices.

Yesterday, EasyJet started flying passengers from Belfast International to Gdansk in Poland, while Jet2 began its new service to the holiday island of Tenerife.

At George Best City Airport, Ryanair yesterday launched flights from as little as £5 one way to London Stansted, Glasgow, Liverpool and East Midlands - the latter two representing new routes from this airport.

Mr Clarke told the Belfast Telegraph that these developments were significant.

"The arrival of new low cost airlines and the nine new Belfast routes announced this week will be a great boost for Northern Ireland's tourism industry," he said.

"Over recent years we have seen a huge growth in direct air access to Northern Ireland with visitor numbers from Europe rising by 19 per cent as a result."

And, as the budget airlines' battle to dominate the skies takes off in a big way, passengers will see easyJet introduce a further three new routes from Aldergrove - to Prague, Venice and Barcelona - by the end of the week.

In short, Ulster passengers will see a total of nine additional flights introduced from Belfast's two airports in just five days - with destinations such as Gdansk and Venice never having appeared on departures boards before.

With competition on existing routes hotting up, prices are invariably cooling down and customers simply cannot lose - with one-way flights costing less than ever.

From yesterday, passengers can travel to Gdansk from Belfast from £19.99, for example, or to Tenerife for £55.50.

Tomorrow, easyJet will launch flights to Prague and Venice, bearing a £19.99 price tag, as well as offering a similar fare on its inaugural Barcelona route, starting on Saturday.

By adding the four new routes, easyJet will increase the number of destinations it serves from Belfast International Airport by Saturday to 23.

Jet2, meanwhile, now runs flights to 13 different destinations, while Ryanair's four new routes from Belfast City airport are looking like a harbinger of possible future expansion.

Eddie Lynch, head of consumer Affairs at the Consumer Council, last night welcomed added competition on key routes and the inclusion of brand new destinations open to Ulster travellers.

" The news for Northern Ireland air passengers just keeps getting better and better," he said.

"The Consumer Council believes these new destinations and competition on key routes will increase passenger choice and competition further and provide cheaper fares for passengers travelling for business or leisure purposes."

Although Belfast is already living up to its reputation as a major centre for modern day air traffic, its role will become even more significant in December with Aer Lingus planning to offer nine new routes.

> Prices quoted are one way, including charges and taxes, as supplied by each airline.

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