Belfast could play part in easyJet's 'alternative Europe' route plan

Budget airline easyJet racked up large half-year losses in the six months to March

BRITAIN may be leaving the EU - but budget airline easyJet intends to offer an "alternative Europe" to holiday-makers next year.

And Belfast could benefit from planned new routes to European destinations the low-cost carrier doesn't currently serve.

According to the company's UK country director Sophie Dekker, easyJet is taking on board customer feedback that they want somewhere different to sun staples such as Spain and Portugal, where prices have become prohibit.

Croatia is a relatively new country destination, and after introducing Split last year from Belfast International, easyJet has just launched a new service to Dubrovnik on the south edge of one of Europe's sunniest countries (which, like Northern Ireland, is a prime location for shooting Game of Thrones).

"We're now looking at Montenegro from London and two new cities in Bulgaria, while Turkey is coming back into favour and is on our horizons," says Ms Dekker.

"They'll be the initial test beds for us, then we can look at options from regions such as Belfast," she added.

"For people in Northern Ireland, going on holiday remains important. And whatever the outworkings of Brexit, it won't change the weather."

Holiday makers don't seem to have been put off travelling to Europe by the weaker pound, and they are currently enjoying a boon from lower fuel prices and a highly competitive short haul airline market.

Ms Dekker, who was speaking to The Irish News as the airline racked up large half-year losses (it was stung by the collapse in the value of the Brexit-hit pound and the later timing of Easter), said Belfast has a "pivotal role to play" in easyJet's UK network.

"Earlier this month we celebrated carrying our 50 millionth passenger from Belfast International, where we current runs 91 flights a week to London airports as part of a network of 28 destinations.

"We carried more than four million passengers through Belfast last year and expect that to rise to 4.4 million in 2017, maintaining our unbroken growth in numbers year on year since our inaugural flight 19 years ago," she said.

Easyjet reported a £236 million pre-tax loss in the six months to March 31, which compares with an £18 million loss in the same period last year.

Despite the loss, easyJet is maintaining its full-year expectations.

Revenue grew 3.2 per cent to £1.8 billion in the period, with the company recording a 9 per cent rise in passengers to 33.8 million and a 0.5 per cent increase in load factor to 90.2 per cent.

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