Birmingham International Airport's claim that is now the undisputed "bargain flights capital" of the Midlands was reinforced yesterday after nofrills carrier Monarch Scheduled unveiled major expansion plans.
Monarch - which only began operating from BIA in April - will next summer introduce three new services and increase capacity on its already successful routes.
Monarch's announcement comes in the wake of a scathing attack on BIA from Michael O'Leary, the outspoken boss of Ryanair, which last week said it was increasing the number of routes out of rival Nottingham East Midlands Airport from five to 15
Mr O'Leary said BIA could have shared in the expansion had it cut its charges.
"But we can't get Birmingham Airport to wake up, which is a tragedy," he added.
However, Peter Vella, BIA's business development director, was yesterday at pains to point out that low-cost traffic had rocketed at the airport over the past few years and now accounted for 35 per cent of flights.
And in what many saw as a sharp retort to Mr O'Leary, Mr Vella insisted: "Birmingham Airport is now the low cost capital of the Midlands."
He added that BIA is now home to seven low-cost carriers - ironically including Ryanair. However, Mr Vella said the airport was also attracting increasing number of long haul operators.
This year BIA expects to handle a little under ten million passengers and over the next 18 months is investing some £30 million improving facilities both airside and landside, with better baggage handling, more aircraft stands, a change to the frontage of Terminal Two, and the replacement of the international aircraft pier which first became operational 21 years ago. It will be able to take aircraft up to Boeing 777 size.
"We're delighted that Monarch Scheduled has taken this step to expand its operation from Birmingham," he said.
"This is further confirmation that both full fare and low cost airlines are continuing to recognise the huge benefits of operating from Birmingham thanks to our first class facilities.
"We look forward to working with the Monarch team to make these new routes a success, providing even more choice and flexibility for Midlands' travellers from our expanding route network."
Tim Jeans, managing director of Monarch Scheduled, said that in 2006 the airline would be starting flights from BIA to Murcia, Menorca and Palma de Mallorca.
Monarch will also increase capacity on its existing routes to Malaga and Faro, double its fleet by basing an additional £ 50 million Airbus A321 aircraft in Birmingham, and create 60 new flight crew and cabin crew jobs at the airport.
Mr Jeans said the expansion would also help to create an estimated 200 support jobs at BIA. "This is an exciting day for Monarch Scheduled and our rapid growth further proves our commitment to Birmingham International Airport," he added.
"We launched our base with confidence earlier this year and our record-breaking summer is testimony to the fact that we were right about there being a strong market for low fares and high quality service in the Midlands. We have received the wholehearted support of the Airport which has introduced a range of initiatives to ensure that costs are competitive with any other airport in the region."
The expansion at BIA represents a year-on-year capacity increase of 104 per cent.