Click to enlarge

So folks, last week, Ryanair announced that its Derry to London route, the only regular connection between the city and the UK capital, will cease at the end of October. A couple of days later, the Northern Ireland Executive announced a £7m development fund for Derry airport, stating that “London is vital and a public service obligation has been brought into play.” Derry Airport currently loses around £2m per year and is clearly a strain on ratepayers and so assistance can clearly be justified. Now let’s wind the clock back a little further and wonder whether Ryanair, an airline famed for its opportunism, might just be pushing its speculative chips into the pot here? It is only days since a similar £9m public fund was announced to save United Airlines from ending its daily Belfast to New York route. This rescue package was described as “irregular” and “outrageous”, with Alliance MLA suggesting that “United will be laughing all the way to the bank.”

Are these two scenarios in any way linked or is it all simply coincidence? In the case of Belfast, one opposing argument was that there is no precedent for such a bail-out. Days later, in the case of Derry, precisely such a precedent now exists and Ryanair’s timing, as is so often the case, cannot be faulted.

On the question of any commercial rationale from Ryanair, the reality is that their Derry-London route appears very profitable when compared to others. It’s ‘Revenue per Available Seat Kilometre’ (RASK) numbers rank it 23rd of Ryanair’s 186 routes. RASK is accepted as a good indicator of profitability and yet 87% of all Ryanair routes rank lower. Methinks that Ryanair can smell an opportunity, especially when it is right under their own nose, and it will be interesting to see if they are ‘persuaded’ to reinstate the Derry to London service in the light of this coincidentally timed announcement from Stormont. We shall watch with interest…