It has been a busy few weeks at Belfast International Airport as leisure carrier Jet2.com, low-cost carrier Wizz Air and low-fare giant easyJet have launched new air services or expanded their schedules from Northern Ireland’s largest air gateway. But the airport is still working hard to further improve Northern Ireland access as its strong delegation at this year’s Routes Europe in Aberdeen, Scotland, UK showed.
The airport shared its eye-catching exhibition stand with Visit Belfast – a joint mission to tell airlines about the list of premier Northern Ireland visitor attractions and events. “Team Belfast was out in force at the forum,” Rachael McGuickin, director of Business Tourism, Visit Belfast told Routesonline ahead of our Routes Europe 2017 announcement in the city on April 30, 2015. “There is a lot of great work being done to increase Northern Ireland air access.”
ROUTES EUROPE 2017 will take place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, hosted by a partnership led by Visit Belfast and Invest NI, and supported by Tourism NI, Tourism Ireland, Belfast International Airport, George Best Belfast City Airport and Belfast City Council. It will be held in the in the newly expanded Belfast Waterfront Conference and Exhibition Centre between April 23-25, 2017.
Spurred on by the US Masters and the prospect of hosting the Irish Open at Royal County Down next month, visiting delegates got the chance to test their skills with a golf putter on the airport stand. If golf wasn’t enough of a lure, then the array of fantastic Northern Ireland produce certainly hit the spot. Bushmills Whiskey, Shortcross Gin, Tayto Crisps, Aunt Sandra’s Confectionary and Ditty’s Biscuits gave a distinctive flavour to the overall effort.
“We had over 20 meetings with key airline and airport targets, and the response we are receiving is quite positive,” said Uel Hoey, business development director, Belfast International Airport.
Speaking to Routesonline at the formal Routes Europe 2017 hosting announcement at the Invest Northern Ireland headquarters in Belfast, airport boss Graham Keddie said he had no doubt but that the meetings at this year’s forum would bear fruit. “It’s important we are here to set out our stall for Northern Ireland, so to speak. We’re about growing tourism and to do that effectively, we have to have increased air access,” he said.
“Airline and airport delegates are hearing the message loud and clear: we’re open for business; we have a fantastic product for a global market and we want more direct access to deliver growth at the airport and the tourism sector. Hosting the forum in April 2017 in Belfast will only help us achieve our development targets,” he added.
Last week Belfast International celebrated its latest new route launch as Wizz Air introduced a new twice weekly link to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. This followed just a couple of weeks after the Central and Eastern European low-cost specialist introduced flights to Katowice in south western Poland. Both routes cater for the large Polish and Lithuanian communities living in Northern Ireland, estimated to number 30,000 and 20,000 respectively.
The start of April also saw Jet2.com and its tour operator partner Jet2holidays launch flights from Belfast International from to Rome and Prague has it launched its biggest ever summer programme from Northern Ireland - 2015 sees the introduction of a third dedicated aircraft and no fewer than five new routes, with flights to Gran Canaria, Verona and Zante also being added.
In total, more than a quarter of a million Jet2.com seats will be available for Northern Ireland passengers this year with more than 70 services per week operating to the 18 destinations. And, there are suggestions that a fourth aircraft is already being tentatively lined up to operate from Belfast in summer 2016.
We also reported at the start of April on how easyJet, the largest carrier in Northern Ireland by capacity, has announced a significant expansion of its operations between Belfast International and London for winter 2015/2016 and the introduction of a new route from the Northern Ireland capital to Alicante. Here’s the full story: Belfast Celebrates ‘Historic Milestone’ with easyJet London Growth'.
The airline’s winter schedule sees it increasing the number of seats for sale on routes to Gatwick, Luton and Stansted in London by more than 125,000, bringing the total number of seats to over 500,000 up to the end of February, 2016. In addition, easyJet will add seat capacity to Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, bringing the total to 160,000 seats.
“The airline offers a superb, price-sensitive product and its approach is clearly making significant in-roads on the competition. easyJet has achieved an historic milestone on its London services, and other domestic routes are also benefiting,” said Keddie.