Thursday 19 September 2019

'It's absolutely scandalous' - Ryanair pulls out of Belfast airport and Aer Lingus cuts routes

Ryanair and Aer Lingus planes side by side
Ryanair and Aer Lingus planes side by side

David Young

Ryanair is pulling out of Belfast International Airport - and Aer Lingus are radically scaling back their operations from 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 80pc 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 70pc 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.

Neither Belfast City Airport, Belfast International Airport, Aer Lingus or Ryanair offered any comment on the scaling down of services.

Belfast Telegraph

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