The outspoken boss of Irish budget airline Ryanair yesterday launched another scornful attack on Birmingham International Airport after announcing a major expansion of its operations at rival Nottingham East Midlands Airport.
Pulling no punches, Ryanair chief executive Michael O?Leary said it was a ?tragedy? that Birmingham had failed to cut its charges.
He also claimed it was overdependent on British Airways, predicting the UK flagship airline would pull out of Birmingham within the next five years.
The airport immediately hit back, pointing out that it is now home to seven low cost airlines. And next summer another budget operator, Thomsonfly.com, will start services from Birmingham to Palma, Majorca.
However, Mr O?Leary insists that because of its reliance on BA, Birmingham will eventually face a crisis.
From March 7 next year, his airline will increase the number of routes out of East Midlands Airport from five to
15. It will also base two new Boeing 737-800 jets, worth around #67 million, at the airport. The airline claims the expansion will create around 1,000 jobs.
Mr O?Leary said: ?Up to two years ago we were doing six daily flights between Birmingham and Dublin.
?Birmingham put up the charges ? we cut back the flights from six to three.
?We launched three flights a day from Dublin to East Midlands as a direct result of Birmingham putting up the cost and that was the start of the relationship with Nottingham.
?Today that has resulted in Nottingham getting a base and ten new routes.
?Sadly all of this has been lost by Birmingham as a result of the airport?s high charges.
?What has been happening at Birmingham at the same time is that British Airways keep pulling routes. BA will ultimately close their base in Birmingham, no question.
?The timescale for this is hard to know, but I would say within the next five years. ?BA will cut back to Heathrow and Gatwick. Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Belfast are doomed as far as BA is concerned. They can?t make any money out of a regional base like Birmingham, because their cost base and fares are too high.
?Meanwhile, Ryanair can come in and offer a million, two million seats at #5 plus taxes, #10 plus taxes.
?That would bring a whole new swathe of traffic to Birmingham Airport ? but we can?t get Birmingham Airport to wake up, which is a tragedy.?
He continued: ?Before we offered these routes to Nottingham we had another go at Birmingham Airport. We last wrote to them about two months ago. We write to them every time BA pulls a route ? and we say ?we are here ? do you want to talk to us??
?We could put in routes here and replace the BA traffic.
?They keep coming back with the same old thing: ?No, we don?t want to upset British Airways ? we are a regional hub airport.? Well, it won?t be for much longer.?
Mr O?Leary believes Birmingham will eventually be forced to put together a deal to persuade Ryanair to increase its services at the airport.
?The tragedy is that instead of being pro-active and doing it prior to BA pulling out, they will probably do it some time when the crisis blows up in their faces,? he added.
Mr O?Leary said Birmingham had been held back by its reliance on the ?old? BA high fares model.
?That is the past. The very fact that Ryanair has overtaken BA?s worldwide traffic shows that this is what people want. What British Airways is providing is what the old fat cats want ? and there are not enough fat cats out there to keep it going.?
Peter Vella, BIA?s business development director, appeared unimpressed by Mr O?Leary?s argument.
He said: ?Birmingham has become a successful base for seven low cost airlines, growing rapidly over the last few years due to its first class facilities and progressive airline incentive scheme.
?It now prides itself on being the Midlands? low cost capital providing services to 34 low cost destinations.
?However, Birmingham?s success story is due to its ability to meet the needs of both business and leisure travellers ? not just those searching for cheap flights.?
British Airways also said: ?We have been flying out of Birmingham for 66 years ? we have no plans to pull out.?