Slow take-off for Belfast/Heathrow route
A YEAR after its controversial decision to switch Heathrow flights from Shannon to Belfast, Aer Lingus has cornered just 10pc of the Belfast/London air market, new figures show.
The revelation last night served to further fuel local anger in the Shannon region, which is still reeling from the loss of its Heathrow flight and has always claimed Belfast/Heathrow was an inferior market.
An Aer Lingus spokesman, however, defended his airline's Belfast/Heathrow performance, saying market share "wasn't the main consideration" and stressing the route's improving performance.
Industry figures from the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) show Aer Lingus carried about 87,000 passengers on the Belfast/Heathrow route between January and May.
That figure compares with the 132,000 passengers who used Shannon/Heathrow over the same period in 2007, and is also less than 10pc of the total Belfast to London market, which came in at 888,000 for the five months.
Aer Lingus's sole competitor on the Heathrow route, BMI, meanwhile, carried almost 220,000 passengers during the same five months this year.
A spokesman for Aer Lingus's Shannon workers last night said the figures confirmed the airline's establishment of Belfast/Heathrow was a "bad commercial decision", a point supported by local Fianna Fail TD Timmy Dooley, who urged Aer Lingus to reverse its decision and restart Heathrow services from Shannon.
Aer Lingus, however, has repeatedly insisted it will not be revisiting the Shannon/Heathrow issue.
"The Belfast base is performing well and performing to expectations," a spokesman said last night.
"We are where we want to be and quite satisfied.
"Market share is one of the things we consider, but it's not the most important thing; we're looking at things like fares and how full the planes are."
The latest figures, for July, show Aer Lingus's Belfast/Heathrow planes were almost 75pc full, he added.