Ryanair’s jubilant Belfast City return; back after 11-year hiatus; switch from previous domestic network to European push in order to accommodate expected post-pandemic leisure boom
Ryanair recently announced that, from June 2021, it will make a strong return to Belfast City Airport after a near 11-year hiatus. Europe’s largest ULCC confirmed that it will commence routes to the UK airport from Alicante, Barcelona, Faro, Ibiza, Malaga, Milan Bergamo, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia. The carrier’s second attempt in the Belfast City market is very different to its previous, when it focused purely on the UK domestic market, operating routes during its three-year stint between 2007 and 2010 from London Stansted, Bristol, East Midlands, Liverpool and Glasgow Prestwick.
During peak S21, looking at mid-July specifically, Ryanair has on sale a daily service to Belfast City from Alicante, Faro, Malaga and Palma, with Barcelona seeing five weekly flights, while Ibiza, Milan Bergamo and Valencia will all be served twice-weekly. The result means that Ryanair will be offering 14,742 weekly two-way seats through summer 2021 from Belfast City, adding over a quarter of a million seats for the upcoming season.
Ryanair still plans to offer services from Belfast International this summer despite opening up new routes from Belfast City, with it still planning to serve Milan Bergamo, Alicante and Malaga from Northern Ireland’s largest airport, three routes it will open at Belfast City. The other five routes currently on sale from Belfast International with Ryanair are Gdansk, Krakow, Malta, Manchester and Warsaw Modlin.
Picking up where Aer Lingus left off
Continental European operations have been attempted from Belfast City in the past, with Aer Lingus having previously served Alicante, Faro, Malaga and Palma from the airport, which unsurprisingly are the routes in which Ryanair is adding the largest amount of capacity this summer (accounting for 72% of all its S21 Belfast City capacity). According to OAG Schedules Analyser data, Ireland’s flag carrier last served the Belfast City – Mainland European market in 2017, with UK CAA data indicating that the airline flew over 145,000 passengers on these four routes that year. Barcelona has also been tried in recent years from Belfast City, with Vueling having flown the route in S15. The Spanish LCC transported just over 10,400 passengers on the route that summer.
Ryanair is poised to operate over 183,000 seats on these four routes from Belfast City in 2021, and if the carrier is able to achieve a 70% load factor this summer (the load factor achieved by the carrier in Q3 FY21), it will expect to carry just over 128,000 passengers on just these four routes this summer. While the hopes are that the airline will achieve a greater load factor than this result, with ever-changing restrictions on travel and uncertainty as to when a more relaxed border control will be in place, it is hard to get a more pin-point forecast on what the airline could do from Belfast City this summer.
Ryanair’s squeezing the ‘Orange’ in Northern Ireland
While operating these routes into Belfast City, it is not surprising to learn that easyJet operated seven of the eight routes from nearby Belfast International in 2019, one of the UK LCC’s most mature bases. In 2019 (pre-COVID), easyJet offered over 301,000 departing seats to Faro (74,800 one-way seats), Malaga (64,400), Alicante (59,900), Palma (57,400), Barcelona (25,800), Valencia (10,900) and Ibiza (8,000). It is worth noting that easyJet does not have Valencia on sale for S21 from Belfast, leaving Ryanair as the only carrier serving the Spanish airport from Northern Ireland on its sole route from Belfast City.
Along with easyJet, Jet2.com is also no stranger to the leisure market from Northern Ireland, serving five of the eight routes Ryanair is planning to serve. The Leeds Bradford-based carrier offered 110,000 departing seats combined in 2019 from Belfast International to Alicante, Faro, Ibiza, Malaga and Palma. For S21, easyJet’s capacity on these routes is currently forecast to be 33.7% less than it operated in S19 based on OAG Schedules Analyser data, while for Jet2.com, its S21 capacity declaration is showing to be 77,680 seats. The result for the latter is 23% less than its S19 operation as things stand. Overall, it means that Ryanair is currently poised to offer a greater level of capacity in these markets than any other carrier currently serving the market.