In the end, Belfast City Airport’s recent outreach event didn’t attract a lot of people over the terminal threshold to hear what the airport was up to. While 21,000 local homes may have received the regular airport newsletter, only 42 people turned up at the two half-day Community Information sessions run last week.
As I blogged over on Slugger O’Toole, a bigger blow was dealt this morning when Michael O’Leary announced at a press conference in the Europa Hotel that Ryanair would be pulling out of Belfast City on 31 October, ceasing their routes to Bristol, East Midlands, Liverpool, London Stansted and Prestwick. (They're continuing to fly out of City of Derry airport.) O’Leary has run out of patience with the continued lack of runway extension and the delayed public inquiry.
“It is very disappointing that the promised runway extension at Belfast City Airport has still not materialised more than three years after we opened the base at Belfast City.”
“It makes no sense for Ryanair to continue to invest in Belfast City, operating restricted routes with less than full payloads between Belfast and other UK airports (which suffer a double APD penalty) unless there is clear and immediate prospect of Ryanair being enabled to safely operate.”
It’s unlikely that O’Leary’s intervention will speed up the process. More likely it’ll encourage easyJet to continue their bargaining between Belfast International and Belfast City airports and perhaps shift more flights down from Aldergrove to the harbour. In July, Ryanair announced a three-month suspension of flights from Bournemouth airport between 1 November 2010 and 31 January 2011, citing the government's £11 tourist tax.
Local politicians reacted to Ryanair’s announcement. Dawn Purvis MLA colourfully suggested:
“While it is regrettable, it is not surprising, Mr O’Leary has long made his views known regarding the democratic right of the people of East Belfast to lodge their objections and lobby their elected representatives against a runway extension which would add to the already nuisance levels of noise and other forms of pollution. Mr O’Leary probably needs reminded that we live in a democratic country not a fascist state where profit is more important than the health and well being of its citizens.
My major concern in all of this is that Mr O’Leary’s ‘hissy fit’ does not cost jobs, I hope he has the decency to ensure that these employees can be redeployed elsewhere within Ryan Air operations.”
And Sinn Féin’s local East Belfast representative Niall Ó Donnghaile also highlighted the labour impact:
“While I'm sure many residents will not be mourning the apparent loss of Ryanair, I think this move by Michael O'Leary is an extremely retrograde step and will only punish Ryanair workers as well as the local economy and air travel commuters.”
Update - I've embedded below a thirty minute documentary produced by NvTv a year or so ago about Belfast City Airport and the proposed runway extension.