Ryanair 'growing like gangbusters' in north - despite Brexit concerns and APD

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary speaks about Brexit and City of Derry airport at a press conference in Titanic Belfast. Picture Mal McCann
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary speaks about Brexit and City of Derry airport at a press conference in Titanic Belfast. Picture Mal McCann

TWO million Northern Ireland air passengers are being "dragged down" to Dublin airport each year because of air passenger duty (APD) in the north, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary, claimed yesterday.

And, the loss of that number of passengers translated to the loss of "hundreds of million of pounds" to the north's economy, according to the outspoken airline boss who was in Belfast to launch Ryanair's summer schedule for 2017.

As well as announcing the continuation of 10 new winter routes, including those to Italy, Poland, Milan and Berlin, he said there would be more frequency for some routes next summer, with Malaga becoming a five-weekly destination and Tenerife and Warsaw increasing to twice-weekly departures from Belfast.

The 11 routes in total - including London Gatwick four times each day - are set ti deliver 1.1 million customers per year and support over 800 jobs at Belfast International Airport.

But the thorny issues of Brexit and APD were raised by the budget airline supremo who said both were substantially hampering further growth of the airline in the north.

Brexit would "pivot growth away from the UK for the next two years", he said, but while the UK's decision to leave Europe was a "shock to the system", business could re-adjust.

"Brexit has already seen a 10 per cent devaluation of Sterling, meaning UK fares are worth less to us in Euros," he said. "As a result, there will be less air traffic over the next two years and we will be pivoting growth away from the UK - but not Belfast.

"The bigger problem is APD which, while fine for big airports like Heathrow and Gatwick, damages smaller, regional airports like Derry and enforced the decision to drop the Derry-Stansted route.

"When we looked at the figures, we found that for 22 out of 30 days in January this year, passengers flying from Derry to London were paying an average fare of less than £13 - yet we have to pay £13 tax. It doesn't add up.

"There is a future for Derry airport, but only if it has a low-cost base with zero tax.

"Instead of throwing money - a £9 million subsidy to United Airlines and a £7m rescue package for Derry Airport - the Northern Ireland Executive should now be working on reducing or eliminating APD.

"I appeal to Northern Ireland ministers to realise the damage APD is causing and remove it so we can go on to create thousands of new jobs and open up new business opportunities."

Despite these obstacles, Mr O'Leary said the airline was "growing like gangbusters" in the north and he expected average fares to fall between 10 per cent and 12 per cent in the six months to March, 2017.

To celebrate the launch, a 'seat sale' is releasing seats from £19.99 which are available for booking until Friday.