Budget airline hails economic boost for region

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BUDGET airline Ryanair is boosting Yorkshire’s economy by attracting thousands of business travellers from destinations such as Venice every year, a networking event heard yesterday.

The event, which highlighted the strength of the partnership between Ryanair and Leeds Bradford International Airport, attracted dozens of business leaders to The Mint hotel in Leeds.

Ken O’Toole, the director of new route development at Ryanair, told the audience that Leeds Bradford “ranks very highly in our network”.

The Irish carrier opened a base at Leeds-Bradford airport in March last year. The group is expanding its presence at Leeds-Bradford and will have 21 routes for the summer season.

Mr O’Toole said: “In 2009 we carried 280,000 passengers (from Leeds Bradford). In 2010, we carried 680,000 passengers. In 2011, we will be somewhere between 850,000 to 900,000 passengers.”

Mr O’Toole said inbound traffic to Leeds Bradford Airport from Ireland was always high.

“We’re still at 50 per cent inbound traffic (from Ireland)’’ he added. “What may surprise you is, if you look at somewhere like Venice-Treviso, and Pisa last summer, we were hitting 25 to 30 per cent inbound traffic to Leeds Bradford. We can stimulate inbound traffic to Leeds Bradford from what may be perceived as mainly outbound flight destinations.”

A number of business leaders have urged Ryanair to fly from Leeds Bradford to Milan.

Mr O’Toole said: “There’s 160 airports in our network. The fares we can offer will stimulate traffic on any of those routes. We look forward to speaking to local parties, such as tourist boards and business associations, and getting their perspective on the demand and the rationale for a route between Leeds and Milan.

“Once we’ve had the opportunity to do that, we can give some consideration as to whether Milan should be one of those routes that is added to our network in Leeds.”

John Parkin, the chief executive of Leeds Bradford Airport said the event, which was organised by Marketing Leeds, showed the importance of inbound tourism. He said many people believed the airport should have a rail link.

He added: “There is space allocated at the airport for a railway station. That agenda is in the city region transport strategy and is moving ahead, We’ve got a lot of political momentum behind it.”

Mr Parkin said he hoped the railway station could open at the airport within the next 10 years.

He added: “We would like it earlier, but that depends how we can get the funding together.

“The airport industry in the UK has had three years when it’s actually gone backwards, in passenger numbers terms, by about four per cent. Our year end is March 31 and we expect to be about 11 per cent up (in passenger numbers). We are the fastest growing regional airport in the UK. We think the airport ought to be at around five million passengers (a year). We’re at three million now.”

Ryanair plans to increase the frequency of its Leeds Bradford service to Alicante in Spain from four per week to a daily service from the end of March.