Business

Airline bosses hail north as 'rick pickings' as new routes launched

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2.com
Gary McDonald, Business Editor

TWO airline bosses with vastly different agendas and target markets were united on one issue in Belfast yesterday - that Northern Ireland is now rich pickings for the aviation sector.

Pieter Bootsma, executive vice-president of commercial marketing for Dutch carrier KLM, and Jet2.com chief executive Steve Heapy, were here to separately launch new routes for their respective carriers and meet officials from the main airports, Stormont Assembly and the northern travel trade.

And they each also hailed the importance of routes from Belfast, which they said consistently outperformed other major cities in the UK despite the competitive disadvantage they have with Dublin's aggressive marketing to poach potential customers, and the financial handicap of air passenger duty.

Bootsma was speaking as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines launched a new daily service from George Best Belfast City Airport to Amsterdam Schiphol, which is aimed primarily at the business traveller as well as leisure tripper planning onwards journeys to the Netherlands hub's extensive network of global destinations.

He revealed that he'd been the one who originally pulled the plug when KLM last ran a route from Belfast to Holland.

"It operated from 1980 to 1999, and I took the decision back then to close the route, so I suppose I'm merely making it up to you now," he said.

"Seriously, though, these are much changed times in Northern Ireland, and when I look at the strength and stability of the economy and the tourism numbers, it's the right time to be back here.

"We have an ambition to grow the service to two, even three, times daily, and initial bookings make Belfast City the fourth best out of 18 UK destinations," he said.

"We will review the service after the summer, but confidently envisage this route growing as we open Belfast to the world."

Meanwhile Jet2.com and Jet2holidays in Northern Ireland confirmed yesterday that it will fly to Fuerteventura from summer 2017.

"It really has been a milestone last two years for us," Steve Heapy told the Irish News.

Already this year the leisure airline and package holiday specialist has added five new routes from Belfast International Airport, with services to Rome and Prague taking off last month, and Gran Canaria, Verona and Zante also due to start.

"We now offer the biggest choice of international destinations direct from Belfast International, giving Northern Ireland holidaymakers 19 city and sun hotspots to choose from," he said.

"We have three dedicated aircraft at Belfast right now - that's because demand is growing for both our flights and holidays year on year.

"Jet2.com operates under the strapline of 'package holidays you can trust', and it's something Northern Ireland customers really buy into, because we can provide them with unrivalled choice and flexibility when it comes to planning their next break.

"With our fantastic range of existing and new destinations, aligned with consumer-friendly flight times, a generous 22kg baggage allowances, deposits from just £60 and a flexibility of duration, we've been able to cement our position as one of Northern Ireland's leading leisure operators.”

Heapy said more than 250,000 seats will be available for Northern Ireland passengers this year with more than 70 services a week operating to 18 (soon to be 19) destinations.

In total Jet2.com serves 55 sun, ski and city destinations from its seven bases in the UK, and Heapy added: "Where there's demand from customers in Northern Ireland, we'll be happy to look at extending our network even further."

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