Northern Ireland still 'top priority' for Emirates - but no Belfast base on its radar

Emirates' Ireland manager Enda Corneille has stressed the importance of the northern market to the airline
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A BELFAST base is definitely not on the radar of the Middle East's largest airline Emirates at the present time, the luxury carrier's Ireland manager Enda Corneille has again indicated.

But he insisted: "Still, Northern Ireland remains a top priority for us, and we've established a dedicated sales team in Belfast to help us meet demand for our services."

Corneille - who was in Belfast yesterday to sign off on Emirates' sponsorship of the upcoming Irish Open at Portstewart - said the number of Northern Ireland passengers now using its Dubai flights from Dublin was 51 per cent ahead of last year.

Indeed in the five years since arriving in Ireland, Emirates has carried 1.2 million passengers and 120,000 tonnes of cargo from Dublin.

"We currently carry up to 800 passengers a day from Dublin to Dubai, and onwards to a further 150 destinations, and each of our flights would typically have 50 tonnes of cargo, much of it from Northern Ireland," he said.

"The north is hugely important to us, and as the familiarity of our service grows, so too does our increase in traffic from here.

"That traffic is a mix of leisure customers, business customers - many opting to fly first class - and exporters, and we're happy with the numbers at this time."

Ireland, north and south, is actually something of a mini oasis for Emirates right now after the airline reported a hefty slump in profits last year as it grappled with a slump in demand linked to Donald Trump and Brexit.

In an earnings report last week, the company said the 82 per cent fall in profits was affected by heightened immigration concerns, terror attacks in several European cities, an attempted military coup in Turkey and uncertainty caused by Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

It also cited a strong US dollar against currencies in major markets.

He said: "Emirates is so big that major global and geo-political issues affect us perhaps more than other carriers. Yet it hasn't stopped us making a profit for the 29th year running."

Corneille admitted the continued uncertainty around the implications of Brexit wasn't causing him sleepless nights but cautioned: "The big issue for us here is the border.

"Currently that border is invisible, but if there is friction, and it impacts on the people travelling from Northern Ireland to Dublin, then it might have an impact.

"However, the mood music is that there is a desire to maintain the status quo, so we're working on the basis that the level of our business on the island will not only be maintained but will grow."

Emirates currently has a fleet of 241 aircraft (exclusively wide-bodied),with another 223 currently on order. Its average fleet age is 5.5 years - one of the youngest in global aviation.

In the year to February past it carried 55.5 million passengers on its 154 global routes serving 76 countries.

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