Posted on Thursday 19 July 2012 by Ulster Business

Lingus general pic

Irish airline Aer Lingus has confirmed it is to move its Northern Ireland operation to George Best Belfast City Airport from Belfast International Airport later this year.

The carrier said in a statement that following a tender process involving both airports the decision had been taken to base two aircraft at the city airport during the winter and three during the summer.

Aer Lingus, which has had a base at Belfast International for the past five years, said the airport switch was partly down to its desire to target business routes.

Its winter schedule for 2012 – commencing on October 28 - targets two key routes for business, leisure and transfer traffic, in and out of London Heathrow and London Gatwick. There will be three flights daily to each airport in each direction.

The summer schedule, which begins from the end of March 2013, will also operate daily flights to two sun destinations, Malaga and Faro in addition to the three daily rotations each to London Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

“Northern Ireland’s vital London connections are secure with Aer Lingus,” said Christoph Mueller, the airline’s chief executive.

“The two aircraft which we normally use in the winter for a mixture of sun destinations and Heathrow will be used for Heathrow and Gatwick with a third aircraft serving two European routes in the new-look summer schedule.”

The switch, which had been rumoured for some time, follows confirmation that British Airways is to retain the Heathrow to Belfast service formerly operated by bmi, meaning all flights to Heathrow from Northern Ireland will now be from City Airport.

Mr Mueller added that it was “a commercial decision delivering value for our customers and the company” and said the airline believed the move will particularly appeal to business travellers.

“Indeed business travellers based in the Belfast City Centre will now be able to substantially reduce transit times from office to aircraft. Customers who are members of our Gold Circle frequent flyer programme will also be able to use the business lounge facilities at George Best Belfast City Airport. We believe our dual offer of Heathrow and Gatwick supports the local marketplace during these challenging economic times,” he said.

Mr Mueller said the 100 jobs created in the £100m investment made by Aer Lingus in Northern Ireland five years ago were secure.

“We remain committed to the Northern Ireland marketplace,” he said. “Jobs are secured in this move and indeed our plans for new routes in the future, may see employment and investment increase.”

Brian Ambrose, Chief Executive of George Best Belfast City Airport welcomed the airline’s arrival.

“I am delighted with the frequency of services to London Heathrow and Gatwick. By the end of October, Belfast City will offer Northern Ireland’s only linkage to Heathrow with 10 flights per day,” he said.

“Significant demand for European routes from Belfast City has already been proved and I am sure that sunshine destinations such as Malaga and Faro will prove popular with travellers.

“Considerable private investment focused on improving the facilities and passenger experience at the airport is paying considerable dividends for Belfast City.”

In a separate development the Aer Lingus board yesterday urged shareholders to reject a hostile takeover bid by rival Ryanair. The board said the €1.30 per share offer by Ryanair, which holds a 29.8% stake in Aer Lingus, significantly undervalued the company.

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