Belfast to Dubai: Emirates delegation to discuss direct flight

Could an Emirates airline soon be touching down at Belfast International?
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A SENIOR delegation from Emirates, one of the fastest growing airlines in the world, spent two days in Northern Ireland last week amid increasing speculation that it is "seriously considering" launching a new direct air link from Belfast International Airport to Dubai.

The officials are understood to have had in-depth discussions with management at Aldergrove, and spend time looking at all operational aspects of the facility, both for passenger traffic and freight.

And the Middle East group also had talks with executives at Invest NI and factored in a meeting to Belfast City Hall.

Last night the airport confirmed the visit had taken place, but refused to comment on the likely outcome.

A spokesman told the Irish News: "We are in ongoing talks with many different airlines and continue to pursue all international air route developments which have potential to boost the Northern Ireland economy.

"But until such times as any agreement is reached, we don't comment on speculation."

However Belfast International Airport - which has just reported a stellar first quarter and is on course to break the five million passenger barrier by the end of this year - is privately confident it can land a major international carrier.

It is still smarting from what it claimed at the time was "dithering" by the Stormont Executive in 2011 when Emirates was considering Aldergrove as its main point of entry into Ireland and was close to agreeing terms and conditions.

But delays by the Executive in convincing Westminster to act quicker to reduce air passenger duty (APD) allowed Dublin to steal a march on Belfast.

In January 2012 the inaugural Emirates flight between Dublin and Dubai took off amid a fanfare, offering a huge stimulus to tourism, business and aviation in the Republic.

Since then it has welcomed more than 1,000,000 passengers on the twice-daily route, and has experienced increased growth and success in the Irish market, connecting up to 22,000 customers from Dublin to Dubai for leisure and business and onwards to more than 152 destinations every month.

Indeed since launching in October 1985, when it flew its first routes out of Dubai with just two leased aircraft, Emirates has grown into one of the world's biggest airlines, and last year carried 45 million passengers and more than two million tonnes of cargo.

Yesterday Emirates Airlines, which already employs more than 30 people in Ireland, said it was planning to expand its cabin crew team and is coming to Belfast to hire a number of new staff.

It is hosting an open day this Saturday at the Hilton Belfast Hotel from 9am, offering interested applicants the opportunity to meet with the Emirates recruitment team, learn about one of the biggest brands in the world and explore the opportunities the job presents, including living in cosmopolitan Dubai.

Meanwhile Belfast International continues to record strong levels of growth after more than 370,000 passengers travelled through the airport last month, up 12 per cent on the same period last year and an increase of 16 per cent since January.

Airport managing director Graham Keddie said: “Added capacity by easyJet coupled with strong demand on domestic routes continues to fuel this increase in numbers.

"The reintroduction of the year round United Airlines service to Newark – New York has bolstered international traffic during the winter period."

He added: "We remain focussed on building our network to key European and international markets. With increased capacity from easyJet and and the addition of Ryanair to our portfolio of airlines we will have a greater choice of direct routes for local travellers as well as ensuring Northern Ireland is more accessible to the increasing number of tourists who want to visit.”

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