RYANAIR has scaled up its plans to return to Belfast International Airport next year by adding another four routes to its 2023 schedule.
The budget carrier will now operate 140 weekly flights across 16 routes starting in late March.
The airline originally confirmed its return to the airport last July, announcing an initial 12 routes after negotiating a new long-term deal with the airport’s French owners VINCI.
On Monday it said Budapest, Cardiff, Mallorca, and Valencia will join the expanded list of destinations.
Ryanair will base two new Boeing 737-800 aircraft at Aldergrove with a staff of 60. The airline said it represents an investment of around $200 million (£164m).
It expects the move will support around 750 roles indirectly, with up to 700,000 seats on sale for 2023.
Ryanair’s director of digital and marketing, Dara Brady said it’s good news for the north’s connectivity.
“I think it’s really good news from a connections point of view for Belfast, but also great for the region in terms of inbound tourism that will come from people coming on the returns.”
The carrier last pulled up the wheels at Aldergrove at the end of October 2021, blaming the UK Government and Stormont over air passenger duty (APD) rates and a lack of Covid recovery incentives.
It’s return next year will coincide with the cut to APD on domestic flights from £13 to £6.50 in April.
On Monday, Dara Brady called on the UK Government to immediately scrap APD for all fights in order to encourage further investment and to reduce the risk of losing air traffic to competing European countries.
Ryanair’s marketing boss also offered new insight into the airline’s withdrawal from both Belfast City and International airports in 2021.
He said the airline “couldn’t get an agreement with Belfast City Airport” around access costs.
“And we’re very happy we’ve now secured a long-term deal with Belfast International Airport that will underpin our growth.”
Mr Brady also played down the impact of Brexit of its UK operations. Aer Lingus last week said it had struggled to reach a deal with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority to retain its Belfast City to Heathrow service.
It means the base will likely close next March, putting 29 jobs at risk.
Post-Brexit rules in the UK mean EU based airlines cannot operate internal UK domestic routes.
Ryanair has already established Ryanair UK (RUK), which has been operating under a UK air operator’s certificate since 2019.
That allowed the carrier to return to City of Derry Airport last December, where it has operated flights to Manchester throughout 2022.
But while Scottish airline Loganair is set to cut its Derry to Edinburgh early next year, Dara Brady said Ryanair is not currently planning additional services at the Eglinton airport.
“We’re always in talks with airports around the network,” he said. “But certainly we have no plans at the moment, our priority is at Belfast International.”
Ryanair’s return in 2023 will mean up to 700,000 extra passengers passing through the airport’s terminal next year.
Despite previous concerns over capacity issues and long queues at the airport, he said: “In the short term we don’t envisage any difficulties. We think the airport is well set to take our activity there.”
It comes just weeks after plans were announced for a new low-cost transatlantic airline at Belfast International.
Fly Atlantic said it wants to be operational by the summer of 2024, offering direct flights to the US and Canada.
The airport’s managing director, Graham Keddie said Ryanair’s news was “a fantastic way to end 2022”.
He added: “These exciting new destinations, particularly Budapest and Cardiff, which are both previously unserved, are most welcome and will provide further connectivity from Northern Ireland.
“From March 2023 Ryanair will now operate 16 new routes and base two aircraft providing a real boost to the local tourism and business economy.”
Alongside the four new routes, Ryanair's list of destinations from Belfast International will include Alicante, Faro, Barcelona-Girona, Malaga, Manchester, Milan-Bergamo, Stansted, Paris Beauvais, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Gdansk and Krakow.