Airline Pull Could Send Province's Economy into Downward Spiral; Northern Ireland Is Reeling from One of the Worst Weeks in Its Economic History with Massive Job Cuts in the Airline and Aerospace Industry. but the Decision by Some Airlines to Withdraw Services from Northern Ireland Is Likely to Put the Privince out on an Economic Limb. ADRIENNE McGILL Reports
Byline: ADRIENNE McGILL
THREE major airlines will have bailed out of Northern Ireland by the end of October leaving the Province facing isolation on the periphery of Europe.
And all three are national carriers - Great Britain's British Airways, the Irish Republic's Aer Lingus and Belgium's Sabena.
While the US terrorist atrocity is being cited by BA and Aer Lingus as the reason for their departure - the economics of the situation has added to an already difficult position.
BA took flight last Thursday with the decision to withdraw its Belfast to London Heathrow shuttle and the loss of 160 jobs. The airline said the route had made a loss of around pounds 38 million over the last four years and within the current trading environment it could no longer bear losses of such magnitude.
The move will come into effect on 27 October, leaving no service to Heathrow from Belfast International Airport.
BA said the decision was part of a massive cutbacks programme involving the scrapping of up to 190 services to Europe, the Middle East and America in response to the US terrorist outrage.
Aer Lingus, the following day announced it is to stop its key transatlantic service from Belfast as part of a cost cutting programme following the terrorist attacks in the US.
The five times a week service to Shannon and onwards to New York and Boston is also to cease at the end of October.
Even last minute lobbying and frantic discussions with the Taoiseach's department's failed to get the decision reversed.
A spokesman for the company said: ``The schedule changes have been implemented as part of the airline's plan in response to the dramatic fall-off in demand being experienced in the wake of the recent tragic events in the USA''.
The decision is part of a 25 per cent cut in its transatlantic services which the airline said had to be undertaken because of the fall-off in demand.
Globally the airline industry has lost more than120,000 jobs since the September 11 outrage and the massive drop in air passengers is estimated to cost the industry in the region of $43 billion.
An airline industry commentator said:
"The world's largest carriers have moth-balled their aircraft. Carriers who shifted their strategy from short haul to the higher profit long haul routes will face disaster as international companies put a ban of staff travelling by air.
"In the past the airline industry has proved to be resilient in the face of a crisis - but they have never had exposure to something like this. Consequently there is no history to go on so it is very difficult to map out a course of action.''
From the local perspective, Northern Ireland runs the risk of being left in isolation. Deprived of a service by the national carrier linking two capital cities and the end of transatlantic flights which have helped cement the economic relationshipbetween Northern Ireland and the US. …