300 bookings in 30 minutes

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The head of Derry City & Strabane District Council has revealed that over 300 bookings were made within half an hour of Loganair being announced as the new carrier for the London Stansted route.

Council Chief Executive John Kelpie said the flurry of online activity showed how necessary the route was, as he detailed the “massive effort” undertaken after Flybmi went into administration just days after a new government subsidy to continue the Derry to London route it operated was secured.

Speaking after a discussion on the airport was taken out of Confidential Business at the suggestion of Sinn Fein Councillor Sandra Duffy last night, Mr Kelpie said that from the moment of the Flybmi announcement, senior council heads including himself, senior airport staff and its board’s chair and vice chair held conference calls with London-based officials from the Department of Transport - which had agreed the subsidy, while the NI Department for the Economy was also kept briefed.

The discussions went on late into Saturday night and resumed throughout Sunday and it was decided to enact procedures via an EU directive which allowed the local authority to find an immediate replacement for up to seven months, with everything agreed and legally approved with London and Brussels by Sunday afternoon, when mini tenders were issued. Loganair was subsequently appointed last Thursday and the Stansted service will resume tomorrow (Wednesday).

“In the first half hour of tickets going on sale over 300 tickets were sold,” Mr Kelpie noted, adding: “At the same time Loganair also announced a daily service to Manchester which was very welcome indeed.”

Mayor John Boyle thanked Mr Kelpie, in particular, and the lead officers, for their “enormous amount of effort”, while Sinn Fein Colr. Eric McGinley said the crisis which was averted showed the vulnerability of the air industry and thanked the officers for being instrumental in pulling the airport back from what was “ a very, very serious situation.”

SDLP Colr. Martin Reilly said it was key that the access link to London and to the North West here remained open for business and tourism.

Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly, however, said the airport “seemed to be lurching from crisis to crisis” and raised concerns over how Flybmi treated its staff and passengers who had paid for tickets.

Ind. Colr. Paul Gallagher said the airport had gone “from crisis to crisis to crisis” at the expense of rate payers.