Berlin among seven new routes planned from Belfast by Ryanair
EXCLUSIVE: BUDGET Irish carrier Ryanair will tomorrow announce plans to return to Belfast with several new domestic and European routes in the pipeline - including a much coveted link with German capital Berlin.
Initially launching with flights to London Gatwick from Belfast International Airport, it is understood the airline will add other European routes to Barcelona and Brussels as well as domestic links to Leeds/Bradford, East Midlands and Newcastle.
The move will put Ryanair in direct competition with Aldergrove's biggest carrier easyJet on the Gatwick, Barcelona and Newcastle connections.
But that could be good news for consumers as increased competition may spark a price war.
The Gatwick routes is due to commence at the end of March.
EasyJet previously offered a service between Belfast and Berlin but pulled the route some years ago.
Germany is considered a key market for both inbound tourism and business links.
The move will also represent one of the biggest jobs announcements in Northern Ireland from some time with several hundred positions anticipated as part of the multi-million pound expansion.
Ryanair already flies to Faro in Portugal and Alicante in Spain from City of Derry Airport.
The Gatwick slots became available after Aer Lingus announced it was pulling its connection to the airport from Belfast city in March.
Addressing Dublin Chamber last month, Ryanair's flamboyant chief executive Michael O'Leary said the airline would operate a "high frequency" from Belfast should it secure the Gatwick service.
It will make the Belfast to Gatwick route the busiest air service from from Northern Ireland.
Ryanair operated from George Best Belfast City Airport from 2007 until 2010 with it axed services blaming delays in approving a runway extension.
It has understood to have been in talks with Aldergrove authorities on an on and off basis since 2012 but stepped up efforts following the opening up of the Gatwick route.
A spokesman for the Belfast International Airport said it was "not policy to comment on speculation".
When it previously operated from Belfast, Ryanair operated domestic flights to destinations such London Stansted, Liverpool, East Midlands, Bristol and Glasgow Prestwick airports.
Mr O'Leary had pledged to launch a series of European routes once a proposed 600-metre runway extension was given the green light.
However, he pulled the plug accusing planning authorities and politicians of "dithering" after the Planning Appeals Commission refused to set a date for a public inquiry.
"If Belfast doesn't want us and the authorities up here don't recognise that Ryanair wants to invest in Belfast, then to hell with you," he said at the time.
Ryanair already flies from City of Derry Airport where it operates to several destinations including domestic routes to London Stansted, Glasgow and Liverpool.