28/08/2008

Low Flying Aer Lingus Still Committed To NI

Despite tumbling passenger numbers on the newly introduced Aer Lingus Belfast to London Heathrow route running more than 60,000 behind the airline's abandoned Shannon to Heathrow link, the airline has today pledged to continue the route.

Chief Executive Dermot Mannion told BBC Radio Ulster this morning that he was in for the "long haul" and there was no question of pulling out of the route, despite the disappointing numbers recorded and the continuing national and worldwide problems flowing from the credit crunch and the hugely inflated fuel costs now hitting all the airlines.

The news comes just over a year after the airline announced it would axe the Shannon service in favour of Belfast to Heathrow, provoking local outrage.

The six month figures from the UK's Civil Aviation Authority show just over 109,000 passengers used the Belfast to Heathrow link between its launch on January 14 and June, well behind the 170,000 passengers who used Shannon to Heathrow during the same period in 2007.

But, Aer Lingus said that since then, 74% of its Belfast to Heathrow seats had been taken up in July - although that's to be expected as it is the busiest (holiday) period of the NI year.

There will be some wry smiles in the Irish Republic however, as Aer Lingus has been repeatedly asked to reconsider restarting its Shannon to Heathrow services.
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A Dail Committee meeting last month questioned Chief Executive Dermot Mannion on the issue who said that that while he regretted "the damage that was caused to our reputation in the Shannon area" he hadn't any intention of reopening the link.

This was underlined further today when Mr Mannion told BBC Radio Ulster Business reporter, Eddie O'Gorman that the airline was fully committed to the Belfast operation and had no intention of changing that pledge for the long term, difficult phase ahead.

Earlier, Mr Mannion had warned that the airline would make a loss for the full year. The first-half year loss compared with a profit of €2.6m in the same period last year. He said its fuel bill rose by 48.7%, or €56.5m, over the year.

"Even with the reduction in fuel prices over the last few weeks, competitive pressure on fares and volumes will continue and we are at best expected to break even in the second half, delivering a loss for the full year," he declared.

There's also further bad news for the Irish airline industry today as Ryanair confirmed it will end its daily flights from Cork to East Midlands & Glasgow Prestwick Airports in October.

This will be a major blow to Cork Airport.

TD Deirdre Clune , who represents Cork South Central, said yesterday: "The announcement of the loss of these two vital connections to the UK is dreadful news for tourism and business in the city and the region. These important links needed to be nurtured and developed, not allowed to be lost so easily.

"Cork Airport was promised independent status in 2004 but this hasn't happened under successive Ministers. It must be able to make decisions for itself rather than be dictated to by Dublin."

(BMcC)

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