A new daily flight route between Derry and Manchester - with connecting flights across the world - is expected to be signed off within weeks, it has emerged.
Representatives from Flybmi and City of Derry Airport said that an agreement which will allow for the introduction of the new route is expected to be concluded by mid-February.
This will be made possible through a new agreement to continue the subsidised Flybmi London Stansted to Derry route, which is also expected to be confirmed at the same time.
The Public Service Obligation (PSO) route between Derry and Stansted was signed off by the UK Department of Transport in February 2017, with £3.8m allocated to fund it up until the end of March 2019. Flybmi began operating the new route in May 2017.
Following talks between the Department and Flybmi, however, it has now been agreed that this is to be extended. The new agreement will also be different in that the plane used by Flybmi on this PSO Stansted route will no longer have to be grounded in Derry when not in use. Instead, the same plane can now also be used for a commercial, non-subsidised Manchester route. The new route will also mean that, as a result of Flybmi partnerships with international airlines, people will be able to fly from Derry to destinations across the world and vice versa.
Flybmi Director of Marketing and Customer, Anthony Price, told the ‘Journal’ he hoped the first flights by the all-inclusive airline would take-off in the Spring.
Speaking at Walled City Brewery during a visit to Derry on Tuesday, Mr Price said: “We are obviously keen to get out there and start promoting the new route.
“We are just waiting for the green light from the Department of Transport and there we go, we have a new destination for CoDA,” he added.
“The PSO [London Stansted] route has worked well in terms of connectivity with London, but having that asset sitting on the ground unutilised is a real waste to us.
“The ability for us to actually add another service and connect City of Derry with Manchester seemed to us too good an opportunity not to take up. For one, it is going to provide investment for the region, but it also gives us a chance to try and make the route more sustainable in the long term as well.”
Clive Coleman, Contracts Director with CoDA, said the new Manchester route opened Derry up to the world because of Flybmi’s business partnerships with major global airlines, which means passengers will be able to travel to and from Derry and many destinations across the world through a single booking.
Mr. Coleman said there had been efforts made over the years to secure a CoDA to Manchester route since the last connection ended after a four month run in 2011, due to commercial factors unrelated to the success of the route. “Since then it’s been a really key unserved route from Derry that passengers want,” he maintained.
New PSO good news for Derry airport
Commenting on the importance of the expected PSO agreement, which will keep the Derry to Stansted route going, Clive Coleman from City of Derry Airport said: “The Public Service Obligation does bring that great sustainability to the airport.
“If you talk to the local council it is trying to get businesses, inbound investment to the region and the one thing that businesses say is that they need connectivity to the London market and the PSO is absolutely great for that.
“Having a double daily service to Stansted means people can get to London for a full day of business and vice versa, as well as for tourism and for those keen to visit their family and friends.”
Stansted route ‘performing well’
Mr. Price said the Derry to Stansted service been performing really well since it started back in May 2017.
“We have carried 80,000 passengers and had a load factor of just under 70 per cent on those routes,” he said.
“The good thing is we have been able to stimulate traffic in both directions: people coming to Derry as tourists and giving people in Derry the chance to visit and to work in London.
“In total we have operated 1,321 flights on the route in 2018 and of those only 38 were cancelled, which is about 2.8 per cent, which is really good when you stack that up against the bigger airlines.”