Belfast City Airport reports £16m hit from 2020 Covid catastrophe

Belfast City Airport lost almost two million passengers in 2020 against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse of Flybe. Picture Mal McCann.

BELFAST City Airport took a £16.3 million hit and lost almost two million passengers against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

New accounts show the airport went from an operating profit of £3m in 2019 to a £6m operating loss for the year ending December 31 2020.

The £22.6m revenue it generated in 2019 collapsed by 72 per cent to just £6.3m.

Just 543,000 passengers passed through the east Belfast terminal during the year, down 78 per cent on the 2.5 million from 2019.

Belfast City Airport suffered a double whammy in March 2020 following the collapse of its anchor airline Flybe and the effective grounding of the aviation industry in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Passenger numbers dropped by 77 per cent in March 2020 and just 2,503 people flew in or out of the City Airport in April 2020.

Brian Ambrose, who will retire as chief executive at the end of July, said: “The accounts for this period reflect the demise of Flybe, our biggest airline partner, in March 2020 and the lockdown measures in response to Covid-19 that saw all but non-essential travel cancelled for most of the year.

“Airports have high fixed costs, many of which remain the same regardless of the number of flights or passengers,” he continued.

“It can therefore be expected that the cost of operating just one flight per day, as Belfast City Airport did throughout the pandemic, will have significant implications on the financial performance of the business.”

Stormont responded to the crisis in May 2020 with an initial package worth around for Belfast City and City of Derry airports. That was followed by a £7.8m package in December 2020 for the three main airports, which included £2.7m in rates relief.

Brian Ambrose said the airport, which is owned by a fund managed by 3i, had managed to replace all routes previously operated by Flybe.

The recovery experienced a significant hiccup two weeks ago by the collapse of Stobart Air, which had operated six routes via the Aer Lingus Regional hub at the airport.

Aer Lingus and British Airways have now stepped in to cover most of routes vacated by Stobart Air’s demise.

Belfast City also managed to secure Ryanair’s return to the airport for the first time since 2010.

The Irish budget carrier said it will operate eight European routes from the airport.

EasyJet and Spanish airline Vueling have also signed on, taking the total number of destinations to 26.

Mr Ambrose said attracting the new airlines was “a significant achievement in the current challenging climate”.

He said: “We will continue to work closely with all our airline partners to build capacity as travel restrictions are relaxed and demand returns.”

Matthew Hall, the former chief commercial officer at London City Airport is set to succeed Brian Ambrose on August 1.

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