Published on July 13th, 2015 | by Jim Lee0
Passenger numbers soar at Belfast International Airport as summer season gets into full swing
Belfast International Airport’s Business Development Director, Uel Hoey, was not surprisingly, very pleased to be announcing a second month of 8% growth at the airport, which he said, reflects the range of destinations served by the airport and the competitively priced products offered by its customer airlines. In June 2014, the airport handled 395,933 passengers and the 8% increase, means that over 427,600 passengers travelled through the airport, this June. May also recorded an 8% increase, bringing to 1,577,133, the total number of passengers handled in the first five months of this year, an overall 3.2% increase.
The prospects for July already look good as airport staff prepares to deal with the big holiday getaway. Between 5th and 13th July, the airport was expected to handle more than 152,000 passengers. Each day, up to 100 flights will arrive or depart from the airport. The 11th was expected to be the busiest day with some 21,000 passengers expected.
June’s strong performance is attributable to increases on all UK domestic routes and popular international flights to Alicante, Barcelona, Faro, Palma, Ibiza, Nice, Amsterdam and Cyprus. Belfast’s traffic is highly dependent on leisure traffic as can be seen from its seven airline partners, easyJet, Jet2.com, Thomas Cook, Thomson, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Wizz. Traffic has also been boosted by new routes to Rome, Verona, Prague, Gran Canaria, Zante, Corfu, Reykjavik, Split, Vilnius and Katowice, which are all recording impressive performances. The summer holiday period also sees the arrival of larger, long-haul aircraft operated by Thomas Cook Airlines to Florida and Las Vegas as well as the inaugural Virgin Atlantic service to Orlando.
Uel Hoey, Belfast International Airport Business Development Director, said “We’re prepared to welcome record numbers of visitors to Northern Ireland especially from our biggest and most important tourist market in Great Britain. Having added new passenger facilities in International Arrivals and Domestic Arrivals, we’re more than ready for the summer rush”
Virgin Atlantic confirms a return in 2016 as Belfast to Orlando flights launched
Virgin Atlantic celebrated the launch of its weekly seasonal service, the VS161, from Belfast to Orlando on 25th June, by confirming the return of the route for next year. The inaugural service was operated by Boeing 747-443, G-VGAL, under the command of Captain Gavin Dobson, with an all-Northern Irish crew. The aircraft, configured with 14 Upper Class seats, 66 Premium Economy seats and 375 seats in Economy, had positioned in from Gatwick the previous evening arriving at 11:15. The first Orlando service departed Belfast at 13:05, around half an hour behind its scheduled departure time of 12:35. The new service forms part of Virgin Atlantic’s joint venture partnership with Delta Air Lines and has also proved extremely popular with customers of its tour operator Virgin Holidays, with 50% of bookings made as part of a holiday package. It will return on 23rd June 2016 with a further four return flights operating on a weekly basis on Thursdays, again using a Boeing 747-400.
Florida remains a key leisure destination on Virgin Atlantic’s network, and the new service adds an additional 1,820 departure seats from Belfast to the Sunshine State over the summer season. Mark Anderson, Managing Director, Virgin Holidays, commented: “This was one of our fastest-ever selling routes when it went on sale last year. It’s fantastic for our customers across Northern Ireland and beyond that it’s coming back in 2016”.
The new route is also good news for Virgin Atlantic, who have delivered a successful recovery plan, bringing the airline back to profitability in 2014. The airline and holiday business is now working to grow to record levels of sustained profitability by 2018, by shifting focus to long-term improvement and resilience, “no matter what the external environment may bring”. It intends to build on this successful return to profitability by structuring the business in a simpler, more efficient way with fewer management layers, bringing the entire business closer to the customer. To achieve this, Virgin Atlantic is planning a reduction of approximately 500 support and managerial roles, which will be achieved through a combination of natural attrition, redeployment and redundancies. Virgin Atlantic is aiming to reduce its non-fuel costs through focusing on driving efficiency and simplicity throughout all areas of the business whilst delivering an even better customer experience through customer Investment
Last year Virgin Atlantic also announced a major programme of work that will see £300 million (around €417.25 million) invested into improving customer experience by the end of 2018, both on the ground and in the air. These include, deploying Wifi across the entire fleet by the end of 2016, significant investment into the on board experience across all cabins, including food, beverage and other amenities, investment into Virgin Atlantic’s famous Clubhouses and technology investment including the rollout of a new Passenger Service System.
Airport Managing Director calls for illegal car parks to be dealt with
The Airport’s Managing Director, Graham Keddie, has renewed calls for illegal car parks operating near the airport to be served with ‘Stop Notices’. When ‘planning and enforcement’ was a matter for the Environment Minister’s office, there was a ‘chronic and persistent inability’ to deal with this issue, which cost the airport millions of pounds in lost revenue and a significant number of jobs. It also meant the local council was denied considerable revenue in rates income. Planning and Enforcement is an issue for the new Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, since the transfer of planning powers to the new Councils, and the airport welcomes the council’s eagerness to address matters of non-compliance, some of which have been ongoing since 2006.
However, a total of five car parks are still operating outside the law, despite Planning Appeal Commission rulings and so far, none has been issued with a ‘Stop Notice’. Mr Keddie said: “There is a lot of foot-dragging going on that frankly I’m at a loss to understand. This behaviour places our legal and fully compliant operation at a total disadvantage.”
He hopes that the new Antrim and Newtownabbey Council will show it no longer tolerates this activity and takes immediate steps to stop these operators. He has already written to the Council asking officials to set out the steps they are taking to fix this long-running problem.