Ryanair is to stop all flights from both Belfast international airport and Belfast City airport, in a further blow to connectivity between Northern Ireland and the rest of Europe.
The airline blamed government passenger duty and the absence of any Covid recovery incentives for the two airports.
“Due to the UK government’s refusal to suspend or reduce APD [air passenger duty], and the lack of Covid recovery incentives from both Belfast airports, this winter Ryanair will cease operations from Belfast international and Belfast City airport from the end of the summer schedule in October, and these aircraft will be reallocated to lower-cost airports elsewhere in the UK and Europe for the winter schedule, which starts in November,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
It will stop its flights from Belfast international to six destinations – Alicante, Málaga, Krakow, Gdansk, Warsaw and Milan – by 30 October.
And it will withdraw eight services from City airport – to Alicante, Barcelona, Faro, Ibiza, Mallorca, Málaga, Milan and Valencia – on 12 September.
The decision comes at a challenging time for the airline industry and highlights the fragility of international connections to Northern Ireland when it is trying to drum up foreign investment in the post-Brexit business landscape by offering local firms access to the UK and the EU single market.
Stobart Air collapsed in June with services linking Belfast City airport with Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leeds Bradford and Manchester airports cancelled and then taken over by airlines owned by IAG.
Ryanair pulled out of Derry airport earlier this year and only resumed flights to Belfast City airport in June, after an 11-year absence, with eight new routes.
It was plugging the gap left by FlyBe, which collapsed last year.
Belfast international airport said: “It is disappointing that Ryanair decided to withdraw operations from the entire Northern Ireland market at the end of October, having variously had a presence in three local airports in recent years.”
The Social Democratic and Labour party economy spokesperson Sinéad McLaughlin said it was a huge blow to both airports. She said she had regularly pleaded with the Stormont executive to provide adequate support to the industry, as “our airports were struggling before the onset of the pandemic”.
Belfast international said it hoped to be able attract alternative carriers and had been “engaging with our existing and other new airlines to provide continuity on the routes to be vacated by Ryanair”.
“It has been a difficult period for aviation and a time when consumers need some stability and faith in the Northern Ireland air transport network,” said a spokesperson.
It said that London would still be served through easyJet which flies to Gatwick and Stansted.