Belfast International (Aldergrove) could find itself struggling to compete against its rivals in 2011, after budget airline BMIbaby announced a plan to shift its entire operation to Belfast City Airport, much to the chagrin of head airline Flybe. BMIbaby said that City offered the airline a “more convenient location”.
The Aldergrove hub will lose 48 weekly flights as part of the exodus, in addition to the two lost in October, when Isle of Man airline Manx2 performed a similar disappearing act.
Flights from Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and East Midlands airports will be sent direct to City from January 1 2011.
Criticism of the move came from all directions, with Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW), an anti-expansion pressure group, questioning whether a sudden hike in passenger numbers would breach a cap on aircraft flying from the airport.
However, as Edwin Poots, the Irish minister, removed the limit on flights from City earlier this month, BCAW can no longer raise a legal objection to a BMI-instigated rise in passenger numbers. Since then, the words ‘residents’ and ‘fury’ have featured in several newspaper articles pertaining to the decision.
Budget carrier Flybe was equally unimpressed. The airline, which is a resident of City, said that it would make a "calculated and robust" response to BMIbaby’s relocation. Flybe began its retaliatory campaign by rubbishing claims by BMIbaby that the airline was moving to provide its passengers with more convenient services.
Mike Rutter, the boss at Flybe, told the Belfast Telegraph that “there has been a trend over the last few years for airport assets to be bought using debt finance,” adding that this "raises broader concerns for Northern Ireland’s aviation policy".
Whilst the loss of BMIbaby to City will certainly come as a blow to Aldergrove, bosses at the hub have been celebrating the arrival of a new airline, the largely unknown, Iceland Express. The North Atlantic carrier will begin running flights to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, from June 14 2011.