Passengers down by 60,000 at Aldergrove in November amid Ryanair winter cutbacks

Ryan McAleer

CUTS by Ryanair to its operation at Belfast International Airport contributed to a 60,000 (13 per cent) drop in passenger numbers during November, new official data suggests.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which monitors monthly passenger traffic through UK airports, recorded 396,600 passengers at Aldergrove during the month. It compares with the 456,313 from November 2018.

Belfast City Airport recorded 13,297 (seven per cent) fewer passengers in November, while City of Derry Airport saw a slight improvement from November 2018, rising from 16,914 to 18,005.

As a whole, the CAA found a seven per cent decline in air passengers at UK airports in November, equivalent to 1.5 million people.

November 2019 was the first time since 2015 that passenger numbers at Belfast International Airport fell below the 400,000 mark during the first month of the winter season.

Ryanair dropped seven winter routes in November 2019 and signalled plans to similarly slash its summer 2020 schedule, which operates from April. The Irish budget airline initially blamed a weak market and air passenger duty when it announced plans last March to pull winter flights to Malta and three Polish destinations.

But the grounding of Boeing's new 737 Max aircraft, in the wake of two fatal crashes during 2019, led the airline to significantly scale down its growth forecast for 2020, moving to cut a number of loss-making routes.

They included winter routes to Manchester, Berlin and Lanzarote.

Ryanair has ordered 135 Max jets. Last month Boeing announced it would suspend production of the 737 Max after US Federal Aviation Administration said it would not approve the plane's return to service before 2020.

The airline is currently flying out of Aldergrove just eight times a week on six routes, less than half the 13 routes it ran last winter.

As it stands, Ryanair's summer 2020 operation from Belfast International will feature flights to just eight destinations, with routes to Barcelona, Alicante and Faro omitted.

Just a single Spanish route (Malaga) is planned for the summer season.

Meanwhile Belfast City Airport is also losing two routes to Faro and Malaga from its summer 2020 schedule. Aer Lingus dropped the axe on the routes in Septemeber following a “commercial review”.

Passenger numbers at the City Airport have dropped from 196,033 in November 2017 to 189,582 in 2018 to 176,285 last November.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Belfast International Airport said: “Undoubtedly the entire aviation industry is currently experiencing a period of volatility and uncertainty with numerous issues impinging upon the sector, including Boeing Max aircraft grounding and increasing fuel costs.

“Set against this backdrop however, Belfast International Airport will continue to work with our airline customers to diversify product and increase capacity in the forthcoming year, despite the continuing drag that air passenger duty continues to have on our ability to compete effectively.”

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