Build a hub in Belfast – however will they arrive?

“Thousands stranded as budget airline ceases operation” – that was the headline in The Independent in March 2019 when Wow Air closed down.

I point out the unlucky demise of the Icelandic airline, which went bust to the tune of £150m, as a result of a brand new enterprise, Fly Atlantic, appears to have an analogous marketing strategy.

Wow Air’s technique was to funnel passengers from factors throughout the UK and the Continental into an island hub on the perimeter of northwestern Europe. Planes would contact down from Edinburgh, Gatwick, Amsterdam, Lyon and Barcelona, discharge passenger right into a transit space then distribute them to North American cities comparable to Boston, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto.

Fly Atlantic is planning one thing very comparable, beginning in summer time 2024.

The island hub this time will probably be Belfast International, the most important airport in Northern Ireland.

Andrew Pyne, the airline’s chief govt, stated: “Our vision is of Belfast as a strong aviation hub linking Europe and North America.

“The lack of direct transatlantic air services has clearly been an impediment to Northern Ireland’s economic and tourism development, which we now intend to remove.

“The project can be a gamechanger. This is an airline that will deliver greater connectivity and help transmit Northern Ireland’s unique identity to a global audience.”

Fine phrases – however why ought to Fly Atlantic work when Wow Air failed?

The prices needs to be considerably decrease: an airline primarily based in Iceland has to pay Icelandic-scale wages, that are larger than these in Northern Ireland. For a lot of the potential hyperlinks, Belfast provides a extra direct flightpath than Reykjavik – saving 300 miles on a London-New York jaunt.

Northern Ireland’s inhabitants is 5 instances greater than that of Iceland, which ought to assist with native demand.

Yet the pitfalls outweigh the benefits, I concern – beginning with competitors. Wow Air was competing in opposition to Icelandair for transatlantic connecting visitors. There are not any direct rivals for a Belfast-based operation. But one of many nice aviation success tales over the previous few years has been Dublin airport – and specifically its transatlantic providing.

The Irish capital is certainly one of few cities which may provide “pre-clearance” for the US – whereby passengers move via American border formalities whereas nonetheless on Irish turf. After landing within the US, there isn’t a must manner. The course of at Dublin airport takes (in my expertise) a few minutes however can probably save a few hours on arrival.

Dublin has a gravitational pull on individuals from Northern Ireland who will fortunately commerce a few hours’ additional journey overland for an honest fare, a large selection of locations and the possibility to swerve US border controls on arrival.

The airport for the Irish capital can also be seen as a possible tax saver by British travellers: whereas long-haul departures from Belfast are exempt from Air Passenger Duty, anybody connecting from Great Britain must pay £87 from subsequent April except they pause in Belfast for a minimal 24 hours. And if Belfast began to attract an excessive amount of visitors away from Dublin, Aer Lingus might are available with some compellingly low fares in a bid to see off the upstart.

Assuming Fly Atlantic can procure some funding and a few planes, early summer time 2024 may very well be stuffed with bargains for travellers as they play off the fares from Belfast and Dublin. But such fares wars don’t appear to final too lengthy earlier than somebody retires harm – and it’s not often the incumbent.

I hope my pessimism is misplaced. A nation on the far northwest of Europe deserves to be nicely linked to America, and Fly Atlantic’s plan would just do that. Let us hope the enterprise generates the correct of wow issue.

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