EasyJet anticipates 'summer flying renaissance' from Belfast
BUSINESS and leisure travellers from Northern Ireland “can contribute to a summer flying renaissance”, a senior executive of low-cost airline easyJet believes.
And according to the carrier's UK manager Ali Gayward, pent-up demand from its Belfast International base will see easyJet returning to near-2019 levels of capacity “sooner than the 2024 date previously mooted”.
“Sales for this summer are already pointing towards that,” she told the Irish News.
She was speaking as easyJet revealed that the Omicron variant of coronavirus hit its load factor last month, with planes only 67 per cent fully in December after being above 80 per cent in October and November.
Yet despite that, easyJet halved its pre-tax losses in its first quarter to the end of December to £213 million, down from losses of £423 a year earlier.
It said it has seen a step change in bookings since the turn of the year and the easing of Covid restrictions, with traditional beach and leisure destinations recovering the quickest.
Ms Gayward said Belfast - from where easyJet has been flying since 1998 - would be pivotal to the carrier's recovery, and she is “expecting an explosion in traveller numbers” from the International Airport.
Last month it announced a new route from Aldergrove to Mahon Airport on the Balearic Island of Menorca, launching twice weekly (Tuesdays and Saturdays) from April 2.
They are among 16 new routes easyJet has added to its UK network for summer 2022 to some of Europe's favourite beach destinations in Spain, the Balearics, the Greek Islands and Italy, as well as Turkey, Bulgaria and Morocco.
EasyJet's flight network from Belfast International includes Bournemouth, Corfu, East Midlands, Inverness, Isle of Man, Leeds Bradford, Gran Canaria and Lyon, while it operates a London Gatwick service from Belfast City.
Ms Gayward also revealed that easyJet is “in close dialogue” with Belfast International's French majority owners Vinci over plans to improve facilities at the airport.
In a pre-Covid interview with the Irish News, Vinci Airports president Nicolas Notebaert said that "money would be no object" in growing Aldergrove and attracting new routes, and he also hinted at the potential of a new terminal building in the coming years.
“We're working with Vinci and airport head Graham Keddie to see how we can feed into their master plan,” she added.
Meanwhile easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said yesterday that, while Omicron is expected to continue to have a short-term impact on its performance in the quarter to the end of March, its flight programme will "ramp up" from just 50 per cent of 2019 levels in January to near pre-pandemic levels between July and September.
He said: "Booking volumes jumped in the UK following the welcome reduction of travel restrictions announced on January 5, which have been sustained and then given a further boost from the UK Government's decision earlier this week to remove all testing requirements.
"Indeed I expect testing for travel across our network should soon become a thing of the past."
EasyJet flies on more of Europe's most popular routes than any other airline and carried more than 96 million passengers in 2019 – more than 16 million travelling for business.
It has over 300 aircraft on nearly 1000 routes to more than 150 airports across 35 countries, and over 300 million Europeans live within an hour's drive of an easyJet airport.