Posted on Tuesday 21 December 2010 by Ulster Business

Wolfgang Prock-Schauer and Julian Carr of bmi

Wolfgang Prock-Schauer and Julian Carr of bmi

Bmi has moved its low cost operation bmibaby away from Aldergrove to Belfast City Airport, leaving Stansted as the only route formerly served by Ryanair in Northern Ireland still to be filled

Bmi has announced plans to move its low cost carrier bmibaby to George Best Belfast City Airport from January. Bmibaby will operate up to 48 flights a week from Belfast to Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and East Midlands out of City Airport, putting it in direct competition with rival Flybe on those routes. The airline group, which is ultimately owned by Germany’s Lufthansa, said moving to the City Airport “made business sense” given its core Belfast-Heathrow service is already based there. The move is a boost for Belfast City Airport, which lost around a third of its business when Ryanair pulled out of Northern Ireland earlier this year following delays to a proposed extension of the airport’s runway. Flybe last month announced it would cover some of Ryanair’s routes, starting new services to Bristol, East Midlands and Liverpool. Chief executive of bmi Wolfgang Prock-Schauer told Ulster Business that competition was to be expected in the airline sector. “In aviation there are hardly any routes any more where you are alone. Competition is good and we compete as bmi with major carriers in the world. We compete as bmibaby with the major low cost carriers, so why should we not compete with another carrier here. Competition is a fact of life,” he said. The airline chief believes adding bmibaby’s services to bmi’s an airport with closer proximity to the city would help the group attract more customers, particularly on the corporate side. “It makes a lot of sense that we consolidate the operations and City Airport is the ideal location. Together we will have something like 90 departures a week, up to 15 a day, so it makes a lot of sense,” said Mr Prock-Schauer. “In today’s aviation industry it is all about getting a presence and being strong in a specific market. You can’t be too fragmented because it’s too competitive an environment.” Chief executive Brian Ambrose told a briefing of journalists the airport’s revenue had been up 10% to the end of October including Ryanair, and its expectation is to hold on to that growth in 2011 if another airline picks up the Irish carrier’s former Stansted route. Mr Ambrose revealed the airport is still in talks with several airlines including bmi about the route and said that with passenger numbers of around 350,000 a year he had a “degree of optimism” it will be restarted. Bmi’s Mr Prock-Schauer said that picking up the Stansted route “is a possibility” in future but that the airline was focused on making the bmibaby routes at City Airport work before considering other opportunities. He emphasised that following bmi’s recent restructuring programme – which aims to return the airline to profitability by 2012 - the Belfast-Heathrow route remains a core market which it plans to defend, despite a recent reduction in frequency from eight to six flights a day. Flybe offered a sanguine response to bmi’s decision to compete on routes from City Airport but was clearly far from happy. Mike Rutter, Flybe’s Chief Commercial Officer, said: “Flybe has always welcomed competition and has a long and successful record of competing with bmi baby and its sister-airline bmi regional, throughout the UK. Flybe is formulating its response which will be calculated and robust. “Flybe has been a consistent source of growth for the Northern Ireland economy while other airlines have come and gone. We will continue to be fully committed to Northern Ireland for many more years.” He added: “On a broader level, we are concerned that today’s announcement is driven by an agenda which is much broader than serving the needs of the NI Community which raises broader concerns for Northern Ireland and UK aviation policy. ” Airport chief executive Mr Ambrose said while there may be some adjustment in capacity he expected both airlines would be able to operate from City Airport and that competition would be good for Northern Ireland. “Flybe have been with us a long time, they are a hugely important customer. They have seen the arrival of other airlines and have focused on what they are good at,” he said. “The days where a monopoly was good for any region are gone and we certainly can’t go out to the market and say all airlines are welcome, but not on the routes we currently serve.” Mr Ambrose also said the airport still wants to increase the length of its runway and had not given up on Ryanair returning to Belfast if that is completed.

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