Business

Aer Lingus ramps up Belfast presence with new regional hub at City Airport

L-R: Andy Jolly, managing director of Stobart Air; Brian Ambrose, chief executive of Belfast City Airport; David Shepherd, Aer Lingus chief commercial officer; and Katy Best, the airport's commercial director. Picture by Kelvin Boyes.
Ryan McAleer

AER Lingus will set up a new regional base at Belfast City Airport, taking over six former Flybe routes to Britain starting from the end of August.

Stobart Air will operate the service for the Irish airline, basing five ATR72-600 aircraft, which will carry up to 72 passengers.

The collapse of Flybe in early March took with it 14 routes and around 80 per cent of flights at Belfast City Airport.

Some have already been taken on by regional airlines. The Irish News reported on Saturday that Aer Lingus was set to take over a significant number of the remaining routes.

Yesterday it confirmed six new routes, including some of the most popular previously operated by Flybe. They include Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, East Midlands and Exeter.

Stobart Air operates the regional service for Aer Lingus, currently numbering around 30 routes.

Last month the carrier announced the closure of its base at Southend Airport, with the loss of 66 jobs.

In a statement yesterday, the airline suggested staff could be redeployed to Belfast: "Stobart Air staff will return on an incremental basis in line with requirements and demand to service the Belfast routes.”

Beginning on August 27, the routes will be gradually introduced through September, potentially reaching 200 flights in and out of Belfast each week.

Aviation Commentator Sean Moulton said each route will involve between three and four daily flights.

“Belfast City was Flybe's second largest base by seat capacity with over 70 per cent of the airport's seat capacity.

“Since the demise, Eastern Airways, Loganair and BA CityFlyer have stepped in to a number of routes, however most of the British Isles had been left unserved from the airport.”

While the service will be sub-contracted, it still marks a significant ramping up of the Aer Lingus presence in the north.

The airline’s last significant hub here was set up at Belfast International Airport in 2007. It expanded to 14 destinations at its peak before being stripped back and eventually relocated to Belfast City Airport in late 2012.

Just three routes remained at that time. Earlier this year, Aer Lingus dropped routes from Belfast City to Faro and Malaga.

The carrier has only retained its Heathrow service, which it shares with fellow IAG airline British Airways.

Belfast City Airport chief executive, Brian Ambrose, said: “Despite an extremely challenging environment, we’re delighted that Aer Lingus is to establish a new base and significantly enhance its UK network from Belfast City.

“As an island off an island, air connectivity with the rest of UK is critical to the enabling the Northern Ireland economy’s recovery.”

All flights at Belfast City Airport, apart from the Heathrow service, were grounded during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Loganair and Eastern have resumed some flights, while CityFlyer’s London City service will return on September 1. KLM is also due to resume its Amsterdam flights from early August.

The Aer Lingus announcement was warmly received by Economy Minister Diane Dodds: “I welcome this commercial decision by Aer Lingus, which will bring new job opportunities and I am particularly pleased at the scale of the planned operation, with both ground and air staff to be deployed.”

The announcement could offer some relief for Swissport’s ground services staff at the airport. The union Unite warned last month that 175 jobs at Belfast City were at risk after the company said it could axe up to 4,556 jobs.

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