Belfast’s only flight connection to the US is to operate throughout this winter, United Airlines has confirmed in what has been hailed as a major confidence booster for the province.
United flies from Belfast International Airport (BIA) to Newark, New Jersey.
However, the airline sparked concern last year when it anounced it was suspending the flight for nine weeks from January to March this year.
Airport managing director, Graham Keddie, said: “United’s commitment is both welcome and substantial. This is wonderful news.”
He said the decision by United to return to full year-round service is of great significance to the Northern Ireland economy.
“Our one and only direct, scheduled trans-Atlantic service to Newark Liberty is a lifeline for US-owned firms and adds massively to efforts by Invest NI to attract additional and highly prized US investment.”
Dublin airport provides stiff competition in the market for transatlantic services.
Mr Keddie added: “United have a wonderful product that is clearly very popular. There are challenges, however, one of which is how to encourage more business passengers to use the main local airport for the transatlantic trip rather than go elsewhere.
“Clearly, United looked at the market and saw sufficient justification for a year-round service which is a further statement of confidence in Northern Ireland. Now, it’s up to all of us to make it even more successful.”
Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan said it was welcome news for South Antrim, Northern Ireland and for the International Airport.
“The New York route has been a great success for Northern Ireland. Its temporary suspension last winter sent out the wrong message. This latest news is a confidence boost for Northern Ireland and Belfast International Airport.
“Much of our trade and a substantial proportion of our international visitors are from the USA.Keeping this route year-round is vitally important in making our local economy accessible to those willing to invest.
“The news also helps stem the tide of transatlantic passengers going south to Dublin Airport.
“It proves the point that if our airport can succeed with the current taxes and duties that Dublin is not subjected to, then it would most definitely excel should a level playing field be created. In my five years at Westminster I pledge to continue to do all that I can to create that level playing field.”
Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir said: “Not only will this allow American travellers, including business people and tourists, to travel to and from Belfast but it will also help secure jobs at the International Airport.
“I have no doubt that, if we want to double our tourism numbers and become a magnet for international business, then we need to take the bold step of transferring all air passenger duty powers to Stormont.
“Then we can make the best decisions in relation to APD based on maximising the benefits to our economy and community.”