Northern Ireland

Aer Lingus sale: What would it mean for Belfast routes?

Aer Lingus plane tailfins Image copyright PA

The Irish government has agreed to sell its 25% stake in Aer Lingus to IAG, the owner of British Airways, but what could that mean for its Northern Ireland routes?

As well as the hubs in the Republic of Ireland, there are 63 flights per week between Belfast City and Heathrow that could, potentially, be impacted by IAG's takeover of Aer Lingus.

Forty-two of these are run by British Airways - owned by IAG - and 21 by Aer Lingus.

In January, IAG was quoted as stating it had "no current plans" to change the route network, should it succeed in buying Aer Lingus.

There is nothing coming out of George Best Belfast City Airport to suggest that either.

'Essential'

Northern Ireland first and deputy first ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have lobbied IAG boss Willie Walsh, believing the retention of all the slots is "essential for economic development."

However, it is unclear if any assurances were provided.

As a 25% shareholder in Aer Lingus, the Irish government had a much stronger bargaining hand when it sought guarantees about southern connectivity.

There would be concern if Belfast City Airport were to lose any of its Heathrow flights - used by around 670,000 passengers each year.

Business organisations like the CBI and Chamber of Commerce have both been lobbying for an increase in services.

The fear would be that IAG could decide to free up a number of Heathrow slots - and use them for more profitable routes - by reducing the frequency of Belfast flights.

Aer Lingus also operates out of Belfast to Gatwick and three European destinations; Faro, Malaga and Palma.

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