Belfast International posted 238 per cent bounce back in passenger numbers prior to Omicron development

EasyJet planes parked at Belfast International Airport. Picture by Pacemaker Press.

BELFAST International Airport saw passenger numbers approach three-quarters of its pre-Covid passenger numbers during October, according to official data from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Some 371,310 passengers passed through the Aldergrove terminal in October, 238 per cent more than in October 2020, and just 28.3 per cent down on October 2019.

But the airport’s biggest operator EasyJet has warned that it is already seeing some impact on demand from the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Announcing annual losses of more than £1 billion on Tuesday, the low-cost carrier said it has seen signs that demand is softening in its current quarter due to the emergence of the new strain of Covid-19, with winter bookings starting to weaken and some travellers transferring trips to early next year.

City destinations in particular have been affected, according to the group.

But chief executive Johan Lundgren said the impact so far is not on the level seen previously when restrictions were imposed, although he stressed it is "too soon to say" what the ultimate hit will be.

EasyJet is currently operating 23 routes from Belfast International Airport and has just extended its Belfast City to Gatwick service until the end of September 2022.

A further ten European destinations are scheduled to return to Belfast International from April, but there are question marks over the future of six other routes, including East Midlands and Leeds Bradford, with the carrier opting not to put seats on sale beyond the end of March 2022.

And while the airline is selling seats for its new summer route to Inverness, it hasn’t done the same for Bournemouth, which was launched last May.

New restrictions are now in force in an effort to control the new variant, meaning all travellers returning to the UK must now take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

Many countries have also moved to tighten their borders, with the UK Government announcing a ban on travel from 10 countries in southern Africa where the variant is thought to be in circulation, and restrictions are growing across Europe.

EasyJet said: "It's too soon to say what impact Omicron may have on European travel and any further short-term restrictions that may result.

"However, we have prepared ourselves for periods of uncertainty such as this."

The airline yesterday announced statutory pre-tax losses of £1.04bn for the year to September 30, compared with losses of £1.27bn the previous year, which was the first full-year loss in its 25-year history.

On an underlying basis, pre-tax losses widened from £835m to £1.14bn.

Despite the current uncertainty, EasyJet said it is still hopeful of a recovery to pre-pandemic levels of trading over its current year.

The group said it expects to ramp up its flights programme to around 65 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the current quarter to the end of December, although this has been reined in from a previous target of 70 per cent.

It aims to increase this to 70 per cent in the three months to March, with a return to around 2019 levels in the summer quarter.

It also said it has seen demand accelerate recently, with a "strong performance" for October half-term, the ski season and Christmas.

But EasyJet held off from giving full financial guidance for the year, given the "continued level of short-term uncertainty".

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