British Airways to step in for 'Brexit blocked' Aer Lingus flights to Heathrow
BRITISH Airways has confirmed it will increase activity at Belfast City Airport to make up for the loss of Aer Lingus on the busy London Heathrow route at the end of October.
The Irish carrier has been forced to withdraw from the service, with Dublin-based trade union Fórsa blaming Brexit.
The union said 30 Aer Lingus cabin crew involved in the Heathrow route, which the airline has operated since 2007, will be redeployed as a result.
Customers already booked with Aer Lingus for future Heathrow flights have been told to turn up as normal, but should expect to be flown by British Airways instead.
Aer Lingus said bookings can still be made via its website.
Both carriers, which are owned by IAG, currently operate the route on a shared basis.
But under the EU and UK’s post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement, EU airlines such as Aer Lingus are not permitted to operate domestic flights in the UK.
The Irish carrier had flown the service for the past two years under what’s known as a ‘wet leasing’ arrangement.
But the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said that was only intended as a temporary measure, which will expire at the end of the month.
The Aer Lingus Regional operation at Belfast City Airport, which is operated by Emerald Airlines on a franchise basis, is not impacted by the development.
The change in rules post-Brexit means airlines must register UK entities and secure a UK air operator certificate (AOC) and use UK registered aircraft.
It’s understood Ryanair’s UK operation was caught up in the same rule change resulting in the Irish carrier setting up Ryanair UK, which launched in June 2021 and now operates under a UK AOC.
That development means Ryanair will be able to operate flights to Britain when it returns to Belfast International Airport next April.
In a statement, Aer Lingus said it was “very keen” to continue the Belfast City to Heathrow service.
While it’s still unclear how long it could take for the Irish carrier to follow Ryanair’s example in the UK, a spokesperson said: “We are engaging with the relevant authorities in order to allow us to continue to serve this route into the future.”
Meanwhile, the matter appears to have sparked a fallout between Gordon Lyons’ Department for the Economy (DfE) and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) over communication.
In a statement to The Irish News, DfE said the DUP minister had arranged an “urgent” meeting with NIO minister Steve Baker and airport executives when made aware of the matter last month.
“At this meeting a number of possible solutions were presented to the NIO that would secure this vital service,” said a DfE spokesperson.
“It is therefore disappointing that despite repeated contact from the department to the NIO, no response has yet been received.”
In response, a spokesperson for the NIO said: "NIO Ministers and officials regularly engage with Northern Ireland ministers and departments, as well as the Department of Transport, to ensure Northern Ireland’s air connectivity is maintained.
“Connectivity between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is currently very strong with flights largely recovering to 2019 pre-pandemic levels, with a number of competing services between Belfast and London airports.”