International and City Airport set to take off following strong 2016

Belfast International's final flight to New York will take of on monday. Photo by PA

AIRPORTS across the north performed strongly in 2016, despite suffering setbacks.

Belfast International saw 5.15 million passengers pass through its doors, marking a year-on-year growth rate of 17.2 per cent.

In December alone, passenger numbers jump by a record-breaking 33 per cent when compared to the previous year.

The figures mark a monthly double-digit growth rate for the airport since July 2015.

In November it was announced that United Airlines were to halt their direct route from the north's largest airport after the European Commission blocked a £9m rescue package that was granted to the airline just months prior.

The final flight from Belfast to New York, which is Northern Ireland's only direct flight to the United States, will take off this Monday.

The increase in passenger numbers was achieved through the introduction of new routes to Germany, Italy and Poland, alongside increased capacity and frequency of trips.

Dublin-based Ryanair also expanded into Belfast International at the beginning of the year, operating several routes to destinations throughout Europe.

The airport's managing director Graham Keddie recognised the loss of the United Airlines route, but insisted it will not hinder growth.

"Our passenger numbers in 2016 were excellent," he said.

"This year, we expect to set a new record of somewhere in the region of 5.4 million, which will surpass the last best performance in 2007 by about 100,000.

"United leaves a gap that we are working hard with government to fill and we are pursuing a number of positive leads."

Meanwhile, George Best Belfast City Airport catered for 2.67m passengers, narrowly shy of its 2015 figure of 2.7m.

In March, Air Lingus ceased to operate their route from Belfast City to London Gatwick, losing 250,000 customers in the process.

This loss was offset by the announcement of several new routes such as services to Spain and Austria. Tri-weekly services to Reykjavik will also come into effect in June, providing a further boost.

Flybe was by far their most popular airline, with more that 1.6m people flying with company to destinations across the UK in the last 12 months – a year-on-year increase of 3 per cent.

Katy Best, commercial and marketing director at Belfast City, said that 2016 was another "very strong" year for the airport

"Strategic air connectivity is key to maintaining the success which Belfast City Airport has enjoyed in recent years, and growing our route network will continue to be a major focus in 2017," she said.

The north's smallest airport, City of Derry, also shared in the success, bringing in 293,000 passengers - a two per cent increase from 2015.

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