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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Competition blow to Belfast airport
BMI's decision is a blow to Belfast International Airport
BMI's decision is a blow to Belfast International Airport
The competition between Belfast's two airports has intensified with the announcement that a major UK carrier is to switch its Northern Ireland operation.

On Thursday, British Midland confirmed it is to move to Belfast City Airport in the city's harbour area from Belfast International Airport.

BMI has flown from the international airport, near Templepatrick in County Antrim, for almost 20 years.

Its decision to move follows a 21m upgrade at Belfast City Airport, where a new terminal opened in June.


The move will further strengthen Belfast City Airport's position as a premier business gateway to Northern Ireland

John Doran Belfast City Airport

British Midland will transfer existing services to London Heathrow and East Midlands airports and summer flights to Jersey to the City Airport with the start of its winter timetable on 28 October.

The development is a coup for Belfast City Airport, whose director John Doran said: "The move will further strengthen Belfast City Airport's position as a premier business gateway to Northern Ireland.

"A leading business airline is coming to an airport which has been specially designed with business travellers in mind."

British Midland chief executive officer Austin Reid said the company had been considering how to upgrade and improve services to and from Northern Ireland, for some time.

"We believe that our move to Belfast City Airport will provide us with all of the opportunities we need to give travellers the highest levels of service," he said.

He said the company believed it could attract more passengers to BMI, which already carries nearly 70% of all Heathrow-bound passengers from Northern Ireland.

Residents unhappy

However, residents in the flight path for Belfast City airport at Sydenham in east Belfast have criticised the decision.

Mollie Baine said people were concernd about increased noise pollution and traffic.

"We really do not want bigger aircraft coming over because we are afraid for our lives and our homes," she said.

British Airways, which also operates flights to Heathrow, moved briefly to the City Airport some years ago but returned to the International Airport.

Budget airlines Easyjet and Go also operate services to other London airports from the International Airport.

Belfast International Airport marketing manager Natalie Raper said: "It is always disappointing when any airline decides to move but that is the nature of the business we are in.

"We will of course support the existing operators at Belfast International to increase their share of the BMI market and we will continue to proactively seek business with other airlines."

Increased capacity

She said she was confident that the airport would benefit from a significant growth in air travel anticipated for Northern Ireland in the next 10 years.

In March, the International Airport unsuccessfully challenged the City's expansion plans in the courts.

Belfast City Airport now handles almost 50% of all scheduled domestic air traffic to and from Northern Ireland - about 1.3m passengers a year.

The new facilities have been designed to handle up to two million passengers annually.

The rival International Airport handled 3.1m passengers in 2000.

The airport did not qualify for any public funding and all the costs were footed by Bombardier Aerospace, the Canadian parent company of Shorts which owns and runs the airport.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Ciara Magrillan reports:
"Residents living near Belfast City Airport are concerned about the prospect of increased air traffic"
See also:

21 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
Airport to undergo 21m expansion
05 Aug 99 | The Company File
Aircraft company soars to record profits
04 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Take off for airport upgrade
22 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
Row over airport expansion
13 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Airport expansion gets lift-off
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