There are advantages to three NI airports but disadvantages too

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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There are various factors in the decision of Aer Lingus and Ryanair to stop various flights from Northern Ireland.

Aer Lingus says its routes to Faro and Malaga from Belfast City Airport are not meeting expectations. Ryanair says its routes to Berlin, Manchester and Lanzarote are ending from Belfast International Airport. The latter cites the late delivery of up to 30 Boeing MAX aircraft.

Destinations such as Lanzarote, Faro and Malaga are already well served from NI, a society of only 1.8 million people. Berlin has been tried as a route by various airlines.

Belfast International blames the fact that Air Passenger Duty (APD) puts Northern Ireland at a disadvantage. There are strong arguments in favour of APD abolition, but a government report said doing so would be a subsidy for successful routes, which might not be the best use of public funds.

Abolishing APD for long haul flights has already been done, but that did not save the transatlantic services.

We need to be honest that having three airports in the Province is convenient and gives us a choice of departure/arrival points but it means that no one airport has a critical mass. None can possibly hope to challenge Dublin.

The busiest of the three NI airports has only six million passenger movements annually. Dublin has 31 million.

Yet the three NI airports combined have nine million. A single airport could justify a rail link and improved road access. It might lure back some NI passengers who use Dublin. It would never reach the latter, but might significantly diminish the imbalance — perhaps 12 million to 29 million.

Who would drive from, say, Dundalk to Aldergrove now on twisting roads through Lisburn or Moira? They might it if had a faster road and a better choice of flight destinations.

Belfast International is well located to be a hub but has not satisfied passengers, as the recent Which? survey showed. Belfast City has done. We seem set to keep split airport provision. That has some advantages but will mean fewer routes.