Northern Briefing: Aer Lingus seeks to increase numbers from Belfast

Airline says it is confident about its £100m investment in Northern Ireland

Aer Lingus operates 12 daily flights between Belfast City and London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Photograph: Alan Betson

Aer Lingus operates 12 daily flights between Belfast City and London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Photograph: Alan Betson

Mon, Mar 24, 2014, 22:16

As the official airline of the Ulster Rugby, Aer Lingus provides transport for the playing squad throughout the season.

According to Declan Kearney, director of communications with Aer Lingus, as part of its sponsorship deal it is delighted to have the “responsibility” of getting the Ulster Rugby squad to their games by providing transport either from George Best Belfast City Airport or Dublin Airport.

Aer Lingus operates 12 daily flights between Belfast City and London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Kearney says its focus is on increasing passenger numbers, particularly business travellers, on these London routes.

That is not to say though that the airline is not paying attention to an initiative unveiled in the UK budget last week that will provide funding for new routes from regional airports.

The UK government has also made some changes to air passenger tax on long-haul flights – although this will have no impact in Northern Ireland.

The North’s Executive had already successfully campaigned to have airport passenger duty removed from the only direct long-haul flight between Northern Ireland the United States.

According to Kearney, Aer Lingus does not have any immediate plans to operate transatlantic routes out of Belfast. Although Aer Lingus would never rule out the possibility of developing such routes, it sees Dublin as the hub for its Northern Ireland long-haul traffic.

On average, more than 500,000 passengers from the North travel through Dublin Airport each year, according to the Dublin Airport Authority.

Not everyone, of course, flies with Aer Lingus but the airline says there is evidence that passengers, particularly business travellers, are willing to travel from the North to take advantage of the airline’s direct flights to mainland Europe and the United States.

Kearney says latest research shows there is a strong demand from the North’s business community for its London services to and from Belfast city airport, research supported, the airline says, by year-on-year passenger growth.

“Since we moved from Belfast International Airport to George Best Belfast City Airport, we’ve definitely seen an increase in numbers. We are confident about our £100 million investment in Northern Ireland.”

Already this year, there are encouraging signs that as the economy continues to recover, the numbers of regular business travellers to London is also increasing, Kearney says. The airline is keen to support local businesses and entrepreneurs who not only play a vital role in the economy but who are also enjoying success as exporters.

Each year Aer Lingus organises the Viscount Awards in the North, a competition which aims to shine the spotlight on Northern Ireland’s best performing companies. This year The Irish Times is supporting the awards and has been involved in shortlisting 12 businesses across the North that are taking part in the competition.

These companies will now go forward to compete in five separate categories.

Those shortlisted include the Almac Group, Andor Technology and Brookvent, which are vying to win the Most Innovative Company award, and Brookvent, the Deluxe Group and Elmgrove Foods, which will compete in the Exporter of the Year category.

In the Best Small Business category, Export Technologies is up against Sixteen South and Solmatix while competing in the Best Medium Business category is the Deluxe Group, Devenish Nutrition and Wilsons Auctions. Two of Northern Ireland’s biggest employers, the Almac Group and Capita, will also go head to head in the Best Large Business category.

Finally there will be an Entrepreneur of the Year award for which three local business people have been shortlisted: Séamus Connolly, founder of Fast Technologies, John Toner, who established Williams Industrial Services, and Colin Williams, who created Sixteen South.

The judging panel has also decided this year on two special awards – one for overall excellence and another to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the local economy.

The winners will be revealed on April 30th.

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