Northern Ireland

Aer Lingus confirms George Best Belfast City Airport switch

Aer Lingus tail fins
Image caption Aer Lingus said the decision to move was a "commercial" one

Aer Lingus has confirmed it is switching its operations from Belfast International Airport to George Best Belfast City Airport in the autumn.

The airline said there would be three flights daily in each direction, to both London Heathrow and Gatwick.

From the end of March 2013, Aer Lingus will also operate daily flights to Malaga and Faro.

Belfast International Airport said it was working to fill the "void".

'Commercial decision'

The airline's chief executive Christoph Mueller said "Northern Ireland's vital London connections are secure with Aer Lingus".

"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," he said.

Mr Mueller said it was a "commercial decision" aimed at "delivering value for our customers and the company".

"George Best Belfast City Airport delivers a compelling location and a strong history of business flying," he said.

"We believe the move will appeal to the 600,000 plus passengers annually who fly with us and especially the business traveller who now has a choice of two London airports with Aer Lingus."

Belfast International Airport said it was aware that discussions between Aer Lingus and Belfast City Airport had been going on for quite some time.

Spokesman John Doran said: "We have asked Aer Lingus why it has performed this U-turn, but so far we haven't heard any explanation that makes sense - save that they have been offered an implausibly low deal on charges by the airport to move there, and that they aspire to charging higher fares and commanding stronger yields as a result of flying from the City Airport."

Mr Doran said the move was "bad news" for local travellers, who he said until now had enjoyed some competitive Aer Lingus fares from Belfast International.

"We're sorry the airline has taken this decision which will have no positive effect on in-bound tourism or the development of a robust local aviation sector that's capable of competing with Dublin which, as well as being Aer Lingus's home base, is our main competitive challenge on the island," he added.

"We are already working to fill the void left by this defection and are confident that in coming months we will have positive news on new GB and international services."

The airline's decision to move from Belfast International follows the city's loss of BMI Baby - which carried 400,000 passengers a year - and gives an indication of the Irish airline's intentions.

Currently Aer Lingus flies from Belfast International Airport to Heathrow and seven European destinations.

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