Ryanair targets 40 routes from Belfast International Airport
RYANAIR could operate at least 40 routes from Belfast International Airport, its chief executive has said.
Michael O'Leary was in Belfast yesterday to announce the first seven international routes the budget carrier has planned from Aldergrove.
They include Berlin, Milan and Krakow as well as sun destinations Alicante, Lanzarote, Malaga and Tenerife.
But Mr O'Leary said that was just the beginning of what could a vast network of routes from what will be the airline's 81st base - as long as politicians move to scrap air passenger duty (APD).
He is already vowing to help Belfast International smash its record of 5.2m passengers in one year but believes it could grow far beyond that.
Ryanair returns to Belfast later this month to operate flights to London Gatwick with the remainder of the routes coming on board in September.
It left George Best Belfast City Airport in 2010 when a planned runway extension failed to materialise.
"Now we've left, we've created a hole where the other Aldergrove airlines moved into City and created an opportunity at Aldergrove with today seven new routes, eight routes in total this winter," Mr O'Leary told the Irish News.
The ever-colourful CEO, who described Belfast as "one of the sexier weekend city break destinations" said: "We had an immediate target list of about 30 destinations but we think that gives us the best the best mix of, outbound sun, the potential to bring inbound German, Italian and Polish visitors up here to Northern Ireland."
"We do 140 routes from Dublin. I see no reason why we can't grow to 20, 30, 40 international destinations from Belfast International as well.
"The key thing we need up here if that's to be achieved though is, scrap APD, because that is a real drag on tourism here in northern Ireland and we need to see some real active support in Stormont for tourism development up here."
The expansion is expected to create hundreds of jobs at Belfast International Airport - already 300 have been announced.
Aldergrove managing director Graham Keddie said the Berlin and Milan connections represented a "long-awaited breakthrough".
"When Ryanair announced its decision in January to open a new Northern Ireland base at the International Airport, we’d been told to expect five new routes in addition to Gatwick," he said.
“Today, five routes have become seven with Berlin and Milan topping the list. To say we’re delighted with this expansion would be an under-statement. For us, the inclusion of Berlin fulfils a major ambition, and is the long-awaited breakthrough we have worked to achieve.
South Antrim MP Danny Kinahan of the UUP described it as "tremendous news".
"In the case of Berlin and Milan we are linking our capital to two of the economic and creative power-houses of mainland Europe."
Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons said the announcement was "excellent news for tourism to Northern Ireland, as we roll out our 2016 promotional drive".
Ryanair will increase capacity on its Gatwick service from four to five flights daily.
The Malaga service will operate four times a week, while there three-weekly flights to Alicante, Berlin and Krakow and two flights a week to Lanzarote, Milan and Tenerife.
Mr O'Leary was in Belfast to deliver a keynote address at the first annual conference in Northern Ireland of wealth management firm Davy Private Clients.