Northern Ireland has lost its only daily direct air route to the United States. United Airlines’ Belfast to New York flights ended on January 9.
United Airlines announced their decision to end the transatlantic flights last year due to the route’s poor financial performance. The airline was offered a £9m bailout package to keep the route, with two thirds of the bailout due to come from Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive. However, the company was concerned the bailout would be in breach of EU rules, which state that public authorities are not allowed to give a specific airline an “undue advantage.”
The route, which ran between Belfast International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport, was operated by Continental Airlines when it began in 2005. United Airlines took over the route in 2010 after a merger with Continental.
Airport managing director Graham Keddie said the end of the route was a "big loss for the Northern Ireland access to the US market."
"Over one million people used the service in the 11 and a half years it has been operating.
"We see there is a definite market here. It is disappointing United is leaving.”
However, he said: “We are working closely with government to deliver a major long-haul project that would open up attractive additional and badly needed connections.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said the route was "vitally important for Northern Ireland business and Northern Ireland people.”
He called on the executive to "invest in [the] success" of the airport by building a dual carriageway link to it and ending a tax on air travel.
"It has great opportunity for international flights and development and I would love to see connections to North America and the Middle East," he said.
"That's important [for] driving forward for the future of Northern Ireland."
He added that having to travel across the Irish border to Dublin for a transatlantic flight would create a "considerable amount of hassle" for people from Northern Ireland.
UK’s Civil Aviation Authority reports that Belfast is the fifth busiest airport in the United Kingdom for domestic passenger traffic, with more than 5.1 million passengers passing through the facility in 2016.
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