Ryanair has announced its first ever flights from Belfast, while speculation continues that Aer Lingus may set up its UK hub in the Northern Irish capital.
From October 30 Ryanair will launch daily flights from George Best Belfast City to Liverpool, Glasgow and East Midlands airports. The carrier said that it would look to expand operations from Belfast in the next 12 months, although no other destinations have been announced as yet. Due to limitations on expansion at the airport the budget airline will be limited to carrying 140 passengers on inbound flights on its 737 aircraft, although flights leaving Belfast will be allowed to run at full capacity.
Meanwhile rival carrier Aer Lingus looks increasingly likely to announce Belfast International Airport as its first hub outside the Irish Republic. According to reports in The Sunday Times, the airline will look to launch transatlantic services to the US from Belfast, although a spokesperson for Aer Lingus said that the airline was still "in discussions with a number of airports" – Birmingham is also believed to be under consideration. The carrier is said to be considering a major UK expansion, including the possibility of a Heathrow-Belfast international service (a route currently only plied by Bmi).
The speculation follows last month's decision by the European Commission to block Ryanair's proposed £1bn bid for Aer Lingus. The commission said that a merger would harm competition as it would have created a monopoly on 22 out of the 35 routes in and out of Ireland.
Resurgent Belfast has become an increasingly attractive proposition for airlines, with Air France launching London City to Belfast City flights earlier this year. And it seems that BA, who scrapped its Heathrow-Belfast International route back in 2001, would also consider a return. CEO Willie Walsh told the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce back in June that he would "love" to reinstate the route, although this depended on an increase in runway capacity at Heathrow.
Report by Mark Caswell