Belfast International Airport business 'can still growth' - despite Ryanair pivoting to the EU
IRISH low cost carrier Ryanair insists it still has "ambitious growth plans" for its Belfast International Airport operation - despite its very public stance that it wants to pivot away from the UK following the Brexit vote and focus instead on EU airports.
"There's so much more we can do in Belfast, where we will grow passenger traffic this year by 85 per cent to 1.3 million (from 600,000), but it's frustrating that our hands are effectively tied," the Dublin airline's chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs told the Irish News.
He was formally unveiling Ryanair's 2017 winter schedule from Aldergrove, with a new link to Malta launching in October bringing its total routes number to 12.
"But that's only a fraction of what we'd like to do, because we believe could comfortably add an extra million seats from Belfast International if the £13 travel tax on every fare is scrapped," Jacobs said.
He said he felt Chancellor Philip Hammond had "missed a trick" in the Spring Budget by not only retaining, but increasing Air Passenger Duty on long haul flights (it is going up by £3 to £78 for the lowest fare).
"The government in Britain really needs to follow the Irish example and scrap APD entirely to allow traffic, tourism and jobs to grow and ensure regional airports like Belfast can compete and attract more business, particularly in the face of Brexit uncertainty.
"Imposing these hefty penalties on tourists at the point of entry simply makes countries less attractive to airlines and visitors.
"And having such a draconian tax is worse for Northern Ireland than other UK region because it has a land frontier with an EU member state where APD is zero, which puts you at an enormous disadvantage and is leading to a haemorrhaging of business to Dublin."
Jacobs said a decision on scrapping the travel tax needed to be taken "very very soon" if Ryanair is to advance its expansion plans in the north.
"We plan a year in advance, so will start looking at our summer 2019 schedule 12 months from now. That's one year to sort this out," he said.
Ryanair - which is set to open a new base at Memmingen in Germany (its ninth in the country) - is now running 61 flights a week from Belfast, where its contribution to the airport is equivalent to 975 on-site jobs.