Up, up and away as Ulster fliers are spoiled for choice
[Published: Tuesday 7, August 2007 - 08:00]
By Claire McNeilly
As a typical Ulsterman might say, now we're flying. Just five years ago, the only scheduled international flight from Northern Ireland was from Belfast to Amsterdam.
Today, however, a staggering 30 European and transatlantic destinations can be reached from Ulster airports, not to mention chartered flights to far flung corners of the world.
And now that Aer Lingus and Ryanair have announced plans to fly from Belfast International and Belfast City airports respectively, that figure seems set to soar.
Belfast International Airport (BIA) is the 11th busiest airport in the UK in terms of passenger numbers, with more than five million travelling through its doors in 2006.
BIA's website shows that, up to now, flights to 40 scheduled destinations have been on offer, including 15 domestic services, with the most popular being to London.
Eight scheduled airlines currently operate out of BIA - namely Bmibaby, Continental, easyJet, flyglobespan, Jet2, Manx2, Wizz Air and Zoom - as well as a dozen charter operators.
And, according to the BIA website, these carriers combine forces to serve a total of 68 UK and worldwide destinations.
Last week easyJet, who already offer flights from Belfast to 25 destinations, announced plans to add four new routes to its network.
That's great news for European travel prospects, although the airline already flies to a welter of wonderful destinations as it is - including Alicante, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Faro, Gdansk, Geneva, Ibiza, Krakow, Malaga, Nice, Palma Majorca, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Prague, Rome and Venice.
Jet2.Com is also expected to enter the fray by spreading its wings and expanding operations from Belfast.
To date, the airline serves travellers heading to sunnier climes in Barcelona, Chambery, Ibiza, Las Palmas, Malaga, Milan Bergamo, Murcia, Palma Majorca, Prague, Pisa and Toulouse.
And from December this year, Aer Lingus will throw its hat into the ring, offering a range of services to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Budapest, Faro and Rome.
BIA transatlantic flights include Newark (Continental), Orlando Sanford and Toronto (both flyglobespan), Vancover and Halifax (Zoom, which also offers a service to Toronto).
Meanwhile, Manx2.com offers flights to the Isle of Man and Wizz Air provides services to both Warsaw and Katowice in Poland.
Air traffic to Europe is a lot less dense, however, from George Best City Airport, which until recently opted to concentrate on serving the domestic flight market.
As it currently stands, the only direct European flight is to Rennes, operated by Flybe, but passengers can also go to Paris, via Cardiff.
Verona, Geneva, Chambery and Salzburg are also on the map for charter flights by travel companies.
And, from next year, the arrival of Ryanair means more merriment for wanderlust Belfast voyagers, who will soon be able to fly direct to a variety of European destinations.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, a spokesman for Belfast City Airport said that policy changes were in the air.
"We only recently stated our ambition to grow the airport in a European context and we see working with Ryanair as a way to do that," he said.
"Our first European destination was Salzburg. We began operating charter flights there in 2003 and the rest followed. Now we are looking forward to increasing our services even further."
The City of Derry Airport currently offers no European scheduled flights, but passengers can travel to five UK destinations, including London, as well as to Dublin.