Posted on Wednesday 26 September 2012 by Ulster Business
BA's Simon Daly says it is committed to being in Northern Ireland
It wasn't just the prospect of free on-board drinks and snacks that drew approval from the Northern Ireland business community.
There was palpable relief that the Heathrow service from George Best Belfast City Airport was retained by the carrier, such is its perceived importance to the connectivity of the province's economy.
In a demonstration of its commitment to the route after much speculation it would use bmi landing slots at Heathrow for more profitable flights, BA has actually increased the frequency of the route from six rotations a day to seven.
Simon Daly, BA sales manager for Ireland, told Ulster Business the company plans to be in Belfast for years to come.
"There's no reason Belfast would be taken off the network. As long as the contribution to the overall business is there, we wouldn't change it," he said.
"It is a profitable route and will be in future. My job is to make sure it remains profitable. Obviously we need support from people in Northern Ireland travelling point to point and on to other destinations."
BA plans to increase its presence in Northern Ireland and Daly reiterates that while it flies to Heathrow, someone travelling from Belfast can get to almost anywhere in the world via its Heathrow hub.
"The purchase of bmi by our parent company IAG gave us a great opportunity to reconnect Belfast with Heathrow after 11 years and also to reconnect Belfast with the rest of world through BA's network. That's great news for Northern Irish tourism and business," he added.
The increased focus on Belfast can be seen in BA.com now selling Northern Ireland as a destination for tourism and business. Last month it also launched online check in and fast bag drop services at Belfast City Airport – essentials for any business traveller.
The proximity of Belfast City Airport to the heart of Belfast and its ability to process passengers quickly made it the obvious choice when BA chose to take over bmi, said Daly.
He is confident that with services such as online check in, free seat choice, free snacks and drinks and 23kg of luggage free, both business and leisure passengers will see the value of its product.
"Looking forward, what airlines have to do through recession is to make it attractive for people to fly. Price is obviously very important, of course, but so is the value of the offering. With BA what you pay is reflected in what you get," he explained.
By operating a code share to Gatwick with Flybe, BA can connect travellers into both of its major hubs. Daly says this fits well with Northern Ireland's export strategy and the increasing number of businesses sourcing sales in overseas markets.
"What we want to do is help connect people in Northern Ireland to our wider network. It is BA's strategy going forward to look to increase our flight offering to emerging markets such as India and China. We have a service to Seoul launching in November. That's good news for people in Northern Ireland who want to go to those places on business," he said.
"Currently the US is a major destination for onward travel. Hong Kong is seeing high demand and on the corporate size there are a number of companies going to Brazil quite frequently. And of course there is Europe. If you don't go via Heathrow, there is limited point to point travel from Belfast to Europe," he added.
While there remain challenges on its routes from Belfast – not least the competition related discrepancy between the Air Passenger Duty paid by passengers leaving from Belfast and Dublin – Daly is confident about BA's ability to contribute positively to Northern Ireland.
"We're here to stay, we have a firm commitment on the route, we want it to succeed," he said. "So long as it remains profitable and gets good support from Northern Ireland people it will do well."