Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON Herman de Wulf/BRUSSELS

Ryanair is poised to move into mainland Europe, with Brussels as front runner to be the airline's first hub outside the British Isles. The strategy comes amid further growth of Ireland's recently floated low-cost airline as it bids to reduce dependence on UK traffic.

Four airports are in the running for the hub with two - Brussels South/Charleroi and Frankfurt Hahn - the front runners ahead of Stockholm Skavsta and Pisa. Ryanair denies that it has already selected Brussels' secondary airport, despite a declaration by the minister for economic affairs for Belgium's Walloon regional government that a deal had already been done with the airline.

"We are still in negotiations with the four airports," says the airline, adding that an announcement will be made this week (28 February).

According to the Belgian minister, the airline would initially base two Boeing 737s at Charleroi from April, with this eventually increasing to four. Services would be operated to Ryanair's London Stansted hub (one of seven new routes), and to Shannon, Stockholm, Pisa, Venice and Carcassone. The airline already operates daily services from its Dublin hub to Charleroi.

The move comes as the airline expands operations from London Stansted with seven new routes. These include Gothenburg (Säve airport); Salzburg (Austria); Esbjerg (Denmark); Pescara and Trieste (Italy); Stockholm West (Västeras airport); and Charleroi.

The new hub will signal the start of the airline's expansion into Europe, and is likely to be joined by two more over the next three years during which time the aim is to double passenger traffic to 14 million annually. Ryanair currently relies on the UK market for 65% of its passenger traffic, with just 20% generated from mainland Europe. The airline aims to double this over the next two years, with the UK proportion falling to around 45%. Irish traffic is expected to drop five percentage points to 15%.

Source: Flight International