Sunday, August 2, 2009

sun flights for Scots

Ryanair is set to target the Scottish tourist market with a string of new direct flights between Prestwick and Spain to take advantage of Spanish tax concessions.

Spain is offering a 100% discount on airport charges this winter, and Ryanair said the continuation of the new routes was dependent on the extension of the discount.

The Irish carrier also confirmed yesterday that it was cutting back on other "marginal" routes in order to concentrate on destinations more popular with holidaymakers in the west of Scotland, changes predicted by The Herald earlier this month From October, the no-frills airline will launch several flights a week between Prestwick airport and Alicante, Palma, Lanzarote and Las Palmas. It will begin running three flights a week to Ibiza from March next year, and there will also be more frequent flights to the sun-seeker hubs of Malaga, Tenerife and Faro, in Portugal.

Ken O'Toole, Ryanair's director of new route development, said: "We wanted to aggressively target sun destinations for the west of Scotland market. We only have a limited capacity to do that, so something had to give. But we are going to offer the cheapest fares in Scotland to those destinations."

The increase will be offset by reduced flights to Belfast, while the twice-daily transit flights to Paris Beauvais will be halved. Flights to Bournemouth, Frankfurt Hahn and Stockholm Stavska are being cut altogether.

While conceding that the shift in destinations would put Ryanair in direct competition with flights from BAA-run Glasgow Airport, he said the company anticipated a net gain in passengers using Prestwick.

"Capacity will be the same, but that capacity will be targeted to routes with a higher load factor," he said. "We expect 95% for the new routes, compared to the 60% we were seeing on some of the city and business routes."

Mr O'Toole refused to confirm or deny recent speculation that the airline planned to cut costs by scrapping check-in staff and instead asking passengers carry their own luggage onboard instead.

"Whether that comes to pass or not remains to be seen. We will look at any structure or price change which will reduce our costs."

Questioned about whether its other Scottish bases in Edinburgh and Aberdeen would see any routes axed, Mr O'Toole said it was "too early" to comment.

Graeme Sweenie, chief commercial officer for Prestwick, said: "Launching five new routes is fantastic news for the airport and passengers alike."

He added that the new services were "particularly pleasing at a time when the aviation industry generally is having a tough time".