Easyjet to ramp up activity at Belfast International despite frustration over government messaging

Easyjet is targeting at least 29 summer routes from Belfast International Airport. Picture by Matt Alexander/PA Wire.
Ryan McAleer

EASYJET is preparing to significantly ramp up its summer operations at Belfast International Airport adding new routes to Bournemouth, Inverness and Corfu amid calls for the executive and the UK government to clear up what it called confused messaging over international travel.

The budget carrier will have 17 routes in rotation by next week, rising to 29 by July, which will see around 270 staff based out of Aldergrove this summer.

But Easyjet’s country manager, Ali Gayward voiced frustration over the messaging on flights outside the common travel area.

The traffic light system now being adopted by Stormont is already in force in England, Scotland and Wales, where travel to countries on the amber list is subject to a Covid-19 testing regime and ten-day quarantining.

Portugal is currently the only green list European country directly accessible from the north. Travellers returning from Portugal will not have to quarantine, but will be asked to take a PCR test.

Most popular sun destinations, including Spain, remain on the amber list.

But with the Northern Ireland Executive and some cabinet ministers advising the public not to make non-essential trips to amber list locations, Ms Gayward said: “I think the general public are now truly very confused as to whether they can or cannot go.”

She said the taskforce set up by the UK Government had produced a framework to facilitate the safe return of international travel.

“But the government seem to be quite effectively undoing all of those recommendations in some of the comments coming out now.”

She said Stormont’s delay in adopting the traffic light model had only confused matters further.

“It’s really hard for people to be able to plan, but also airlines to be able to plan their schedules.”

Easyjet is currently the only airline flying directly from Northern Ireland to Portugal, but both Ryanair and Jet2 are due to launch flights in June.

EasyJet yesterday announced a bruising set of results for the six months ending March 31 2021, with both revenues and passenger numbers down 90 per cent on the same period last year.

The airline has said it doesn’t expect a return to 2019 numbers until at least 2023/24

Whereas Easyjet would traditionally plan schedules 12 to 18 months in advance, Ms Gayward said the airline had moved quickly in response to the changing government guidelines and shifting trends, adding new routes to Bournemouth, which start on Wednesday and Inverness, which launches on July 2.

“We have the ability this summer to ramp up to 90 per cent of our 2019 levels, but it’s really in the hands of the government, both in the UK and overseas what we’re permitted to do,” she said.

“We’re committed to our base at Belfast International and what’s really important is that we’re able to ramp up our flying there, that’s where the real opportunity is for us.”

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