Posted on Thursday 23 May 2013 by Ulster Business

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Airline Flybe has confirmed that it is to stop flying from London Gatwick early next year, after selling its landing slots at the airport to rival easyjet for £20m.

The company, which blamed the rise in airport charges and the cost of air passenger duty for its decision, said it would continue its seven domestic routes from Gatwick, including its 26 flights from George Best Belfast City Airport, until March 2014.

However, low cost carrier easyjet uses Belfast International Airport as its main base in Northern Ireland, making it likely that it will switch any flights to Gatwick away from the City Airport.

Easyjet has so far made no comment on its plans other than to say the slots "will allow easyJet to provide additional frequencies on popular existing routes from Gatwick as well as add new destinations across the UK and Europe".

Flybe is the largest scheduled airline at George Best Belfast City Airport and it confirmed there would be no impact on the remaining 14 routes it currently operates from the Northern Ireland airport. The airline, which posted a loss in its most recent results, also confirmed the funds generated by the sale of its Gatwick slots will be re-invested across its network.

The airline said its decision to withdraw from London Gatwick is the result of the pricing regime applied by the airport's owners to the operators of smaller, regional aircraft which - claiming it has seen a 102% rise in these costs over the last five years.

Jim French, Flybe's Chairman and Chief Executive said: "No business can swallow such a massive increase in such a short period of time and it is with real regret and some anger that we have made this decision. Flybe fully appreciates the implications this will have not only on Northern Ireland passengers but also on the wider regional economy which has come to rely on the convenient lifeline connections we provide to Gatwick. However, we have to accept the ugly reality that Gatwick simply doesn't want smaller, regional aircraft at their airport and, with the absence of a regional aviation strategy and the government's penalistic and ludicrous policy of charging Air Passenger Duty (APD) on both legs of a domestic flight, I'm afraid it's inevitable that high frequency services from the UK's regions will ultimately be squeezed out of Gatwick, as they have been from Heathrow."

Mr French added: "Gatwick airport may not want those connecting passengers, but others do. Flybe will work with our airports across the nation to ensure the UK's regional passengers don't get left in the cold."

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