Matthew Hall, Chief Executive of George Best Belfast City Airport, says the Northern Ireland airport has made a “very strong recovery” after Covid and the collapse of Flybe.
He told The Airport Operator that the two years since he took the role “feels like a bit of a whirlwind”. On the day he started the airport had just 17% of pre-Covid passenger numbers. By the end of last year it had recovered to over 100% of 2019’s 2.6m total.
Then, at the end of January this year, Flybe 2, collapsed. The airline accounted for 15% of the airport’s passenger volume. “That was unwelcome” Hall said, “but eight of the ten routes they served were already being served by other carriers and the other two, Newcastle and East Midlands, were very quickly picked up by Aer Lingus Regional”. The growth trajectory of the airport’s passenger numbers in the first half of this year fell slightly, but they have picked up again in the second half.
The key point to note, Hall said, was that “it is just a very different business now, in a positive sense. Pre-pandemic we were 80%+ Flybe – all our eggs in one basket really. Now we have got a much broader portfolio of airline customers, six airlines across a far broader offering, so that is good for the consumer, less risky and I think demonstrates the demand and the resiliency of the business”.
The airport has invested significantly this year in reconfiguring its forecourt, helping to improve pedestrian access to Sydenham rail station, which is a kilometre away by bus or on foot. Feasibility studies are currently being conducted to consider how both the station itself and the journey to the airport could be further improved.
Sustainability is also a focus. The airport was the first in Northern Ireland to be part of ACI Europe’s accreditation programme and continues to take steps to reduce emissions.