Aer Lingus to move to George Best airport
AER LINGUS is to relocate its operations in Northern Ireland from Belfast International Airport to George Best City Airport in a move which it says could lead to further “employment and investment” in the North.
The airline, which has operated from Belfast International for the last five years, will start services from the city airport on October 28th, where it will base two aircraft during the winter and three during the summer.
Aer Lingus said it had taken the “commercial decision” to move to the city following a tender process between the two airports.
From the autumn the airline plans to operate three flights daily in each direction to London Heathrow and London Gatwick airports. During the summer months it will also operate daily flights to Malaga and Faro.
Christoph Mueller, the airline’s chief executive, believes its decision to switch airports at this time offers Aer Lingus the potential to grow passenger numbers in the North.
Mr Mueller said: “George Best Belfast City Airport delivers a compelling location and a strong history of business flying.
“We believe the move will appeal to the 600,000-plus passengers annually who fly with us and especially the business traveller who now has a choice of two London airports with Aer Lingus.”
The North’s Chamber of Commerce has consistently stressed how important good air links are for the North’s economy, and in particular Northern Ireland’s access to the London Heathrow route.
Research suggests that Heathrow directly supports 1,000 tourism jobs and 900 airport jobs in Northern Ireland. The Confederation of British Industry has also warned that access to Heathrow is “critical” for the North’s businesses.
Mr Mueller said “Northern Ireland’s vital London connections are secure with Aer Lingus”, and he stressed that the 100 jobs created in the £100 million investment made by Aer Lingus in Northern Ireland five years ago were also secure.
“We remain committed to the Northern Ireland marketplace. Jobs are secured in this move, and indeed our plans for new routes in the future may see employment and investment increase.”
However Belfast International Airport described the decision by Aer Lingus to deflect to its rival airport as a “U-turn” on its previous position in Northern Ireland.
John Doran, the managing director of the airport, claimed the airline had previously cited issues with both the runway and night-time flight curfews at Belfast city airport. Mr Doran speculated that the reason Aer Lingus had relocated was because it had been “offered an implausibly low deal on charges by the airport to move there”.
This is refuted by the city airport management, who said no airline got special deals over another for locating at the city airport.