Aer Lingus set to close Belfast base as movement shows ‘damaging effects of Brexit on UK travel’

A travel writer says the closure of Aer Lingus’ Belfast base after 15 years shows the damage Brexit is doing to the UK travel industry.

A Lingus, part of IAG International Group, said the end of its 15-year operations from Belfast was now likely with the base closing at the end of March.

About 29 employees will be affected by the shutdown, including some who have worked for the airline since its inception here.

Understandably, they were very upset when they were told Wednesday.

The airline has been flying from Belfast City Airport to Heathrow since 2012, five years after it established its first base at Belfast International Airport.

But post-Brexit regulatory changes affected its rights as a UK carrier, leading to talks with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about how to maintain its ability to fly Belfast to Heathrow.

The airline stopped flying the route in October, with sister airline British Airways operating the flights instead.

British Airways did not respond when asked if it would continue the same Aer Lingus flights, as well as its Belfast-Heathrow service.

Belfast City Airport also declined to comment but is understood to be hoping BA will continue to fill the Aer Lingus schedule.

Travel writer Simon Calder said that while consumers were unlikely to be affected, the change showed the complexities that Brexit introduced to UK travel.

An Aer Lingus spokesperson said: “As an airline in the EU, the regulatory changes arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union have had an impact on Aer Lingus’ movement rights as a carrier within the UK market and, in particular, on the operation of Aer Lingus route from Belfast-London Heathrow.

“Despite constructive discussions with the relevant UK authorities, we have not yet been able to identify a viable solution.

“We have therefore informed our staff in Belfast of the possibility that we will have to cease our operations at Belfast – London Heathrow, which we have operated for 15 years, from 26 March 2023, resulting in the closure of our Belfast base.

We have now begun consultations with our staff and their representatives, starting with a meeting on Wednesday, where we explained the circumstances that led to the current situation.

“We are working with union representatives and directly with staff to consult on these proposals and to make available as many options as possible should our Belfast base close, including transfers to another base, in order to reduce the potential need for a number of redundancies among our staff in Belfast.

“We will continue to communicate with union representatives and employees, throughout the consultation process.”

The spokesperson said customers who had booked to fly from Belfast to Heathrow until March 25 would be honored for their flights.

However, if the Aer Lingus base is confirmed to be closed, they will be contacted by Aer Lingus by the end of next month and offer alternative flights or a refund.

The airline added that flights operated by regional Aer Lingus through its franchise partner Emerald Airlines were not affected.

Trade union Forsa said: “The airline has written to Forsa to say closing its Belfast base is now likely, as it says discussions with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have not led to a solution that would facilitate the resumption of flying service Lingus Belfast-Heathrow.

“The company has moved to enter into a process of consultation with the union on how best to avoid, reduce or mitigate the layoffs of up to 29 cabin crew in Belfast.

Suggested options include basic transfers, and an enhanced bonus package has also been identified. The airline also indicated its willingness to consider “other feasible options” during the consultation process. There was a preliminary meeting on Wednesday before the consultation process.”

Travel journalist Simon Calder said the complications faced by Aer Lingus were a realization of industry concerns about the potential impact of Brexit.

He said the UK and Ireland had been “at the forefront of European liberalization of air travel, and the UK has decided to step back from that”.

But, he added, “Honestly, there was a limit to the warnings that I and everyone else could throw out because everything we said was just met with, ‘Oh, that’s just project fear.'”

“The leaving side was clearly lying and saying what he wanted to say knowing it would be completely unprovable.”

However, he said the departure of Aer Lingus would not have a detrimental effect on consumers.

“Given that IAG owns both BA and Aer Lingus, a little bit of mixing things up doesn’t really make much of a difference,” said Mr Calder.

“You’ll still be sitting on the same Airbus A320 paying almost the same fares. But I will miss the Aer Lingus flight to and from Belfast.

“It’s just another bleak sign of how Brexit is, people can make plausible philosophical cases for that, but it came at a huge cost, in terms of travel in particular.”

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