Belfast International Airport narrows losses with £5m government help

Belfast International Airport received just over £5m in government support last year, but it wasn't enough to lift it out of the red. Picture By Hugh Russell.

BELFAST International Airport narrowed its losses last year with £5 million of government support, but it still took a £4.6 million hit as the aviation industry limped out of the devastation of Covid-19.

The airport reported an improved picture from the initial impact of 2020, with 2.3 million passengers passing through the terminal in 2021, 580,000 more people than the previous year.

That contributed to a 16 per cent increase in revenues, which climbed to £21.6m.

But that was less than half the income from 2019, when the airport registered a record 6.3 million passengers.

The impact of Covid-19 on the travel industry left Belfast International Airport with a pre-tax loss of £12.7m in 2020.

Government grants of £5.34m helped the airport narrow that in 2021 to a loss before tax of £1.2m.

However, a £3.3m tax bill left the airport with a total bottom line loss of £4.6m for the year.

In commentary accompanying the accounts filed with Companies House, the airport’s directors said the decrease in losses was down to the improving passenger numbers, but also a government package of Covid-19 support.

The airport bosses said continuing rates relief alongside restructuring and cost control measures also played a part.

Belfast International is owned by Vinci Airports, which is part of the French Vinci Group, the world’s second largest concessions and construction company.

The 2021 report showed the airport’s staff was cut to 159 in 2021, 49 fewer people than in 2019, resulting in a £3.4m reduction in the wage bill.

Staff shortages both within the terminal and among airlines was blamed earlier this year when the airport was hit by long queues and delays in the first half of 2022.

The airport said a major recruitment drive had been launched to fill staffing vacancies.

Figures compiled by the Civil Aviation Authority show the airport’s recovery continued through 2022.

Some 520,708 passengers were recorded in the airport’s terminal during August, 52 per cent more than August 2021 and approaching pre-pandemic levels.

Numbers are expected to jump again next year, when Ryanair returns to Belfast International in April 2023. The Irish airline said it plans to operate 12 routes from Aldergrove next year.

Meanwhile, a new Stormont scheme is to be developed to support more international air connectivity.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons announced on Thursday that officials will commence work on a new Northern Ireland Route Development Scheme (NIRDS).

It follows the Northern Ireland Domestic Aviation Kickstart Scheme (NIDAKS), introduced in 2021 to support connectivity with airports in Britain.

Mr Lyons said the scheme, which will be aimed at European, transatlantic and Middle Eastern routes, will be available in 2023/24.