Local Flybe chief says there is scope for growth at 'big three' hub Belfast
THE Co Armagh chief commercial officer (CCO) of one of Europe's leading airlines has said Belfast remains a key market with strong scope for growth in the near future.
Keady native, Roy Kinnear was appointed CCO at Flybe at the end of last year and has been in his new role since January. On a rare visit home last week he spoke to The Irish News about the importance of Belfast City Airport to the airline going forward.
"We serve 15 countries with 81 aircraft. Belfast is in the top three in terms of cities (alongside Manchester and Birmingham) that we serve for pure size. We will carry in the region of 1.6 million passengers to and from Belfast this financial year." he said.
"We've got eight aircraft based here, we fly seven of them and the very fact that we choose to lay over an aircraft on the ground shows the importance of Belfast. You could say that's a very expensive asset to buy and sit on the ground, however the size of the Belfast operation and being one of the top three big guns means it nearly warrants having a spare asset there. For a 1.6 million passenger base it is a worthwhile investment."
With over 30 years experience in the airline industry Mr Kinnear has held a range of senior management roles within well-known airlines including British Midland, Gulf Air and Etihad. A self-confessed workaholic he helped transform the latter's cargo business from a $200 million operation to one worth $1.1 billion, despite never working in the field. He later worked with Air India, before taking on the CEO role at Air Seychelles, where he remained until Flybe came calling, with the size and scope of the offer simply too good to turn down.
"My reasons behind the move were Air Seychelles were never going to buy another 10/20 aircraft in the next five years, it would have been more of the same and quite honestly the opportunity to move to a carrier that's got 81 aircraft, flies to 78 cities, is an 8/900 million dollar business, which will carry probably nine million passengers this year - the size of that role and the opportunity is something I decided to take up."
Mr Kinnear believes a new technology platform, due to come in at the airline in October will help revolutionise travel for business and leisure passengers, including those in Belfast, allowing a ease of access to international destinations without the long convoluted process.
"Has anybody ever seen an advertisement out there for Belfast to Orlando or Belfast to Mumbai? Probably not, but we can fly Belfast into Birmingham and then onwards be it with Emirates to Dubai or Air India to India or Cathay Pacific to wherever, but our technology platform does not currently allow us to do so. Once the new system come into place it will allow us to grow that piece of business."
Looking to the future and Mr Kinnear has said there is scope for further growth at Belfast City Airport and did not rule out looking again at introducing a service in Derry.
"We've got to do the due diligence, work through the numbers, what gives us the best return from an investment and what satisfies the community. I do not like seeing aircraft going 60 per cent full, you got to be up at 80 per cent to be making sustainable money on it. I can't sit here and say what's in and what's out, all I can say is, as a region Northern Ireland is right up there with the big guns in terms of priority."
"Belfast is clearly long-term, there's no doubt about that. You don't put eight aircraft into a base if you do not have faith and belief in it. It's clearly one of the big pillars of Flybe, what I'm interested in is, how can we fine tune it to make it better. It's clearly not broken, but how do you make it better in terms of offering.
"Do we put more aircraft into Belfast? Do we fly to more cities? Do we increase frequency on the existing markets there? To do that, I think the data is there, we need to come up with a plan to do so and put effort behind it," he added